Canada’s One-Call systems: Business as usual during pandemic lockdown

Did you know Canada’s One-Call systems are open for business during the current COVID-19 lockdown?

One-Call systems allow the public to make a single phone call (or online request) a few days prior to digging to notify all affected utility operators with just one communication. So if you’re planning any outdoor summer projects that involve disturbing the ground, think about submitting your requests on-line using Click Before You Dig.

In this week’s blog post, we chat with Mike Sullivan, President of Alberta One-Call Corporation and the Canadian Common Ground Alliance, to find out how One-Call organizations are managing requests to locate underground utilities during this unusual time.


One-Call Centres now completely virtual, so service the same as before


“Alberta One-Call, like other One-Call Centres in Canada, is fortunate to be completely virtual. So, One-Call members and the public should see no change to our service whatsoever during this pandemic lockdown,” says Sullivan. “Although we’re promoting the on-line locate request process more than ever before, phone service is still available. But you might wait a little longer than usual to speak with an agent.”

The One-Call service in Canada arranges for member companies with registered underground infrastructure to mark where their facilities are located. That way, those who need to dig in the area can do so without damage or injury. Sullivan points out that members have a commitment to respond to all requests within five days, whether it’s for a major industrial project or backyard landscaping. It takes three days to process requests related to transmission pipelines regulated by the Canada Energy Regulator or Alberta Energy Regulator.

Sullivan notes there’s been a dramatic drop in activity comparing March 2020 to March 2019. “We’ve seen a 25 per cent drop in requests,” says Sullivan. “That’s due to three factors: lockdown measures to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus; the world collapse of energy prices resulting in project stoppages or delays; and unseasonably cold weather in many parts of the country.”

But summertime digging season is about to begin. Garden centres are expecting higher demand, because most people will have more time for planting. Some are also planning to grow their own vegetables to avoid unnecessary trips to the grocery store.


What’s the benefit of Click-Before-You-Dig?


One-Call Centres in general are promoting, a one-window portal to make a locate request across North America. That’s because it enhances the integrity of the request and keeps locate staff more available for emergency support functions.

“There’s greater accuracy with on-line requests compared to those that come in by phone,” says Sullivan. “That’s because users can identify exactly where they’re digging with on-line drawing tools, instead of explaining the location of the dig site to another person. Greater accuracy makes damage less likely.”

With most of the on-line locate request software used in Canada, when users request a locate through, all the information goes directly into a system that notifies any registered utilities that intersect with the dig site. Another benefit is that on-line service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Sullivan points out that 44 per cent of locate requests for home projects in Alberta now come in through their web tool. He attributes the increase to improvements to their on-line system and homeowners becoming more comfortable with digital technology. For members and contractors, Sullivan says Alberta One-Call recently imposed a mandatory on-line locate request process. Today, on-line requests from those groups are at 98 per cent.

April is Dig Safe Month – a North American initiative promoted by the Canadian Common Ground Alliance and the Common Ground Alliance in the U.S. to raise awareness of safe digging practices and prevent damage to critical underground infrastructure, such as pipelines. Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) members are not only committed to safe digging practices in April, but, all year round. Preventing damage to pipelines and protecting the safety of communities are among the highest priorities for CEPA’s member companies.

Check out our other Dig Safe blogs: