First responders and PG&E during a training drill. Photo courtesy of PG&E.
First responders and PG&E during a training drill. Photo courtesy of PG&E.

Information provided by PG&E

On Aug. 24, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) said it conducted a joint safety exercise with local first responders at the Hollister Municipal Airport to simulate the coordination during an emergency event involving natural gas, including damages to gas pipelines or bodily injuries as a result of excavation or gas leaks.

Representatives from PG&E, Hollister Fire, CAL FIRE, Aromas Fire Department, American Medical Response (AMR), CALSTAR Air Medical Services, San Benito County Sherriff’s Office, Hollister Police Department, and NetCom dispatch services came together for two drills to examine strengths and identify opportunities to improve the joint response around scenarios involving natural gas to protect customers and communities.

PG&E said in addition to using PG&E trucks, fire trucks, police vehicles and other equipment during the safety drills, CALSTAR Life Flight Helicopter was also included in simulated emergency response efforts because many trauma victims in Hollister are airlifted to the nearest medical centers outside of Hollister for urgent treatment

“Holding this safety exercise in San Benito County is especially important this year due to PG&E seeing an increase in accidental strikes to underground utilities throughout its service area in Northern and Central California,” the news release said.

It added that in 2021, San Benito recorded seven accidental dig-ins, this year there have been over two strikes to underground utilities. In 2021, there were 64 incidents in nearby Monterey County where underground gas lines were damaged due to digging, resulting in gas leaks. There have already been 38 incidents in that area this year. Santa Cruz County experienced 44 dig-ins in 2021 and this year, has already recorded approximately 32 accidental strikes.

“These events required the fire department to respond to the scene, where they worked with PG&E to make the situation safe,” the release said. “Each incident carries a risk of injury or even death.”

It added that customers can also face a repair bill that averages $3,500 and up and that if 811, a free service to have underground lines marked before digging, had been called in advance, these incidents could have been avoided.

“Calling 811 is free, easy and fast, and will help you keep your family and neighbors safe and connected to essential utility services. Hitting an underground gas or electric line while digging can be dangerous. Knowing where the lines are located, so that digging can be done safely in those areas, is the best way to avoid a safety incident and avoid costs associated with repair,” said Joe Forline, Senior Vice President, PG&E Gas Operations.

PG&E said customers, contractors and anyone planning to dig at any depth, should place a toll-free call to the free 811 service a minimum of two business days prior to starting the project. Utility workers will respond to the call at no cost to the customer to locate and mark the location of underground lines. Underground utility lines can be shallow, sometimes only a few inches below the surface, due to erosion, previous digging projects, shifting or settling of the ground and uneven surfaces.

PG&E provided the following tips for calling 811

  • Customers should call 811 a minimum of two business days before beginning any project that involves digging, no matter how large or small. Customers can also visit to have underground utility lines marked for their project site.
  • Professional utility workers for all utilities (gas, electric, water, sewer and telecommunications) will be dispatched to mark the location of all underground utility lines for the project site with flags, spray paint, or both.
  • The 811 call center serving Central and Northern California, USA North, is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and will provide Spanish and other translation services.

PG&E provided the following safe digging tips

  • Mark project area in white: Identify the digging location by drawing a box around the area using white paint, white stakes, white flags, white chalk or even white baking flour.
  • Call 811 or submit an online request a minimum of two working days before digging: Be prepared to provide the address and general location of the project, project start date and type of digging activity. PG&E and other utilities will identify underground facilities in the area for free. Requests can be submitted a maximum of 14 days prior to the start of the project.
  • Dig safely: Use hand tools when digging within 24 inches of the outside edge of underground lines. Leave utility flags, stakes or paint marks in place until the project is finished. Backfill and compact the soil.
  • Be aware of signs of a natural gas leak: Smell for a “rotten egg” odor, listen for hissing, whistling or roaring sounds and look for dirt spraying into the air, bubbling in a pond or creek and dead/dying vegetation in an otherwise moist area.