How to avoid a digging disaster

dawson ppd red underground line marking flag

Can you dig it? Well…maybe. Before you start any digging project, you should call Nebraska 811 to help locate underground utilities. One ill-fated scoop could turn your DIY project into a digging disaster. Here’s how you can avoid an underground mishap:

Make a plan

It sounds simple, but is often overlooked. Begin with the end in mind. Sketch out where your digging will take place, and be sure to measure.

If you’re doing some landscaping, like planting a tree, be sure to consider the plant’s mature size. That cute, seven foot tree you thought would make a great ornamental focal point could grow into a monster with limbs stretching into overhead power lines. Visit with your local plant nursery to determine the best plants for your project.

Mark it out

Use white marking flags to indicate the size of the project. Pre-marking your proposed dig site with white marking flags helps locating crews know exactly where to mark, avoiding confusion and project delays.

For a limited time, Nebraska 811 is offering 50 free white marking flags to anyone that requests them. Visit for more information.


The American Public Works Association Uniform Color Code. Red is designated for electric power lines, cables, conduit and lighting cables.

Call 811

“It’s free, easy and it’s the law.” True statement. Digging in excess of four inches warrants a phone call. Contact Nebraska 811 or 800-331-5666, or go online at at least two business days in advance of your digging project, but no more than 10 days before digging. This allows each utility enough time to come in and locate their underground facilities.

When placing the locate request, please indicate that the proposed dig site will be identified with white marking flags. Unlock your gates and secure pets, too.

Locate your private utilities

Notice how we write “their underground facilities” in the step above. Each utility will do their due diligence to locate their property, however, the 811 call DOES NOT include private underground utilities. Private utilities like your underground sprinkler system, well and septic system and underground electrical line from the meter to your house are your responsibility to locate.

In general, Dawson PPD’s property ends at the meter. The power line extending out of the base of the meter to the home is considered private and the customer’s responsibility to locate. Your electrician can help you locate private electrical lines for a fee.

Be sure to draw a map of your property and include locations of your private underground lines, including measurements, so you’re ready for the next DIY project.

Dig carefully

You’re all set! You made your plan, marked it out, called Nebraska 811, located your own private utilities and waited for all utilities to mark their lines or tell you it’s clear. Nothing can stop you now! Well…just in case, please be careful.

If you need to dig near the markings, hand digging and extreme caution is suggested. Go slow and hand dig around the “tolerance zone,” which is 18 inches on either side of the underground facility plus half the width of the facility. If you make contact with an underground utility that is not private property, please call Nebraska 811 immediately. Damages cannot be concealed or repaired without the authorization of the utility.

Digging doesn’t have to be dangerous! Remember to locate your private utilities and call Nebraska 811.

How stuff works: Underground Locator

Maintenance Lineworker Howard Roth uses an underground locater (yellow tool) to find buried power lines. His trusty paint stick (left hand) marks red lines on the ground.

Maintenance Lineworker Howard Roth uses an underground locater (yellow tool) to find buried power lines. His trusty paint stick (left hand) marks red lines on the ground.


ting underground lines is like tuning into your favorite radio station. Each station transmits a different signal, and locators are like a radio designed to pick up those signals. These signals help identify the exact location of an underground utility. Many utility lines give off a charge or transmit a signal.

In most cases, each line has a different charge or signal just like radio stations. However, some lines do not give off a charge or transmit a signal. In this situation, a transmitter can be used to induce a signal onto a metal line.

Dawson PPD lineworkers can follow this signal and mark a clear path with red paint and flags. Why red? All utilities follow the American Public Works Association Uniform Color Code, meaning that no matter where you are in the United States, the same color indicates the same kind of buried utility. Red is designated for electric power lines, cables, conduit and lighting cables.

Want to give it a try? The Nebraska 811 will have an underground wire locator activity at the Nebraska State Fair (August 24-September 3). Look for the Public Power Booth in the Marketplace, across from the Cattle Barn.



August 2018


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