Think OUPS Before Digging

by Diana Barnum


YOUNGSTOWN, OH - Expansion for any company is an expensive, time-consuming project and is often filled with many local, state and sometimes federal requirements and restrictions.

And whether corporate officials are adding on to an existing facility, or designing a new one, one of the most important aspects of the plan should be for the contractor and/or excavator to determine where underground utilities may or may not be located before the first shovel of dirt is turned.

In the Buckeye State, the first thing a contractor or a homeowner should do before digging is to give a call to the Ohio Utilities Protection Service (OUPS) - pronounced: oops.

OUPS provides a quality one call process at no charge to excavators, to protect the public, the underground infrastructure and the environment. The OUPS state-of-the-art call center operates 24 hours a day, 7-days a week. More than 50 operators answer incoming calls within 20 seconds, helping anyone who plans to dig in the state of Ohio. The call center, located in Youngstown, OH, handles an average of 3,000 phone calls a day.

Why the need for a call center?

Stories surfaced during their annual membership meeting like the one about a homeowner who decided to dig on his own and hit a line. Wasn't it OK to dig since it was less than five feet, he asked?

Another time, a major line cut during a dig in Newark left the city virtually powerless. Mail that was sent from Columbus to Newark had to be sent back to Columbus because mail sorters were not functioning for more than a day. This caused a major headache with important mail being delayed.

And a story about call center importance to the community was shared about a woman who recently dialed 911 in the Columbus area while a man was breaking in through a window to attack her. Because of the call center communication, a police officer was able to arrive on the scene. An operator told the woman to kneel down. Then the office shot and killed the attacker.

"You win with people who are dedicted to a common cause," Foor said, quoting Woody Hayes, the late football coach of Ohio State University.

OUPS was created as an association in 1972 by Ohio Bell Telephone, East Ohio Gas and Cleveland Electric Illuminating. It incorporated in 1979 to form the existing nonprofit corporation.

OUPS started out with limited funding, but has grown ever since.

"When we started, we had a brand new building, computers held together with sheer will, dedication and duct tape and a budget - and that's significant," said Bill Foor, vice-chairman of the Board of Trustees at OUPS (Ohio Utilities Protection Service - pronounced: oops). "We didn't have a budget at first."

Membership fees from more than 800 companies fund OUPS. With proper planning and budgeting, OUPS made improvements including updates to the computer systems. The updates featured a new operating system that allowed operators to view maps with the most accurate location designations possible using real-time online locates.

OUPS also added contractor ID numbers to speed up the ticket-taking process. And they set into motion a new marketing campaign to spread the word about OUPS so that people would call in and use their services.

"We have an award-winning marketing department," said Greg Obsincs, president of OUPS. "We're even a debt-free organization. It feels real good!"

Marketing stresses a Dig Safely number on shirts, buttons, magnets, stickers, etc To learn more about the program, call: (888) 258-0808.

OUPS promotes a 4-step Dig Safely program:

* Call before you dig - at least 48 hours, but not more than 10 days before commencing excavation

* Wait the required time for marking - OUPS does not mark any utility lines.

* Respect the marks - Dig Safely is a joint government and industry team

* Dig with care - OUPS educates the public on the prevention of damages to all underground and submerged facilities.

Marketing efforts have not gone unnoticed as the 10 millionth caller is about to be honored within the next 30 days.

To celebrate 30 years of one call excellence, OUPS held an anniversary celebration in conjunction with their annual membership meeting in August. Employees and guests enjoyed three full days of activities at the OUPS center in Youngstown along with an golf outing at the Youngstown Country Club, a special tour of Tara, a world-class country inn based on the film "Gone with the Wind," and events at the Holiday Inn Metroplex, including entertainment such as a trade show/casino event.

The trade show attracted first-time trade show attendees and frequent OUPS callers, including the Ohio HDD (horizontal directional drilling) Association.

This fairly new organization proudly displayed their new signage against a backdrop of HDD equipment from Vermeer Sales & Service, Inc. and Baroid fluids from Baroid-IDP, represented by John Christ, manufacturing representative of the Ohio HDD.

Christ found out about the trade show on the first day of the event and called Ohio HDD President Ron White of Cook Paving and Construction Co., Inc. Together the two men set up exhibitor space and hosted their first trade show. The HDD group has plans to attend more trade shows and organizers are getting their ducks in a row to improve their presentations and increase the number of exhibitors.

For more information on establishing a budget and one call center operations, contact OUPS at 4740 Belmont Avenue, Youngstown, OH 44505. Call: (800) 362-2764 or fax inquiries to: (330) 759-2745. Visit them online at . To learn more about the Ohio HDD Association, write C/O Dan Schlosser, P. O. Box 310, Caledonia, OH 43314. Call: (800) 537-6585, or fax inquiries to: (419) 845-2026.

Editor's Note: This is a good idea. I decided to run this story in all editions in the event that some states may not have such a system in place.