OUPS Celebrates 40 Years in Damage Prevention

Across the United States, a building boom took place during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. During this time, there was a trend to go underground with utilities. With more companies moving utilities beneath the surface, thousands of miles of facilities were at risk of damage from excavation equipment.
As the number of underground utilities increased, so did the number of damages to facilities. Utilities needed a way to protect their lines. Excavators needed an efficient and easy way to notify utilities that they would be digging in the area.

It was during this time that the one-call industry began to take shape. Ohio was one of the first states to establish a system that would allow excavators to make one notification call rather than contacting each utility individually. Ohio joined states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania at the forefront of the one-call notification industry in the United States. Today there are more than 100 one-call centers located internationally.

Ohio Utilities Protection Service (O.U.P.S.) was founded in 1972 as a nonprofit association by Ohio Bell Telephone Company (now AT&T Ohio), East Ohio Gas (now Dominion East-Ohio) and the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company. This year, O.U.P.S. marks its fourth decade dedicated to protecting underground utilities.

O.U.P.S. will celebrate its 40th anniversary during its annual meeting on August 15-17. O.U.P.S. continues to fulfill its mission to serve the customer’s needs by providing a quality one-call process to protect the public, protect the underground infrastructure and protect the environment.
Through the years, O.U.P.S. has seen changes in the industry as more and more one-call centers sprang up across the country. There have been changes in the one-call laws, technology and the type of facilities placing lines underground.

By 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the federal one-call legislation, which recommended that all states have a one-call utility notification system and that utility companies and excavators participate in it. For Ohio, this had been something that had been a part of state statutes since 1989 when Senate Bill 174 required that all Ohio utility companies participate in a one-call service. A year later, Senate Bill 264 required that all Ohio citizens call before they dig.

When O.U.P.S. began in the early 1970s, 13,676 dig requests were processed in the first year. Calls continued to increase as a result of education and marketing efforts. In 1984, O.U.P.S. processed its one-millionth call. O.U.P.S. remained at the forefront of the industry, introducing a marketing department in 1993 to increase awareness of its services. The department developed billboards, brochures, television commercials and public service announcements to stress the importance of calling before you dig. Three years later, O.U.P.S. became the first one-call center in the nation to launch its own website.

O.U.P.S.’s marketing efforts and commitment to its stakeholders did not go unnoticed. In 1994, Ernst & Young, LLP, rated O.U.P.S. as “Best in Class” in its benchmark telecommunications study of one-call centers.

As O.U.P.S. approached its 25 years in business in 1997, it processed its six-millionth call.

In addition to its marketing efforts throughout the last four decades, O.U.P.S. has focused on education efforts and community awareness. In 2008, O.U.P.S. sponsored its first “Safety Day” in Richfield. This event became a free, fun-filled annual educational and networking opportunity for anyone interested in damage prevention. The day includes vendor displays, outdoor equipment demonstrations and educational sessions, along with a complimentary lunch. This year’s Safety Day will take place on June 7 at the Ohio Operating Engineers in Cygnet.

Technological advances have allowed O.U.P.S. to make it easier for excavators and homeowners to make the call prior to digging. As the country entered into a new millennium, O.U.P.S. implemented i-dig, a free, real-time online processing system that allowed contractors and excavators to submit their dig requests online. Eight years later, O.U.P.S. implemented the latest call center software known as Newtin. Just three years ago, the one-call center implemented a program tailored to the homeowner. Through the launch of an online ticket entry program known as e-dig, homeowners can enter tickets via the web. At the same time, Virtual Private DIRT is launched, enabling excavators and facility owners to upload damage information to the Common Ground Alliance.

As one of the country’s first one-call centers, O.U.P.S. remains on the cutting-edge in technology, marketing and innovation.

“One of the most significant things we did was recognize that our message needed to be re-packaged and re-branded,” said O.U.P.S. Executive Director Roger Lipscomb. “People had become desensitized to what we were saying and we needed to reposition ourselves.”

A catalyst for the refocusing of marketing efforts came in 2007 after 811 became the new FCC-designated national N-11 number created to eliminate confusion of multiple “Call Before You Dig” numbers across the country. With this, O.U.P.S. created a new logo and message, Lipscomb said. “Our message matured and evolved into something more modern.”

With more than 1,000 member companies, the one-call center processes nearly 1 million digging and excavation notices each year. O.U.P.S. has evolved just like its marketing message to more than just a center for taking the call and sending the message, Lipscomb said. “We are proud to be a forerunner in this area. We are creating alliances with Homeland Security, Department of Public Safety, Public Utilities Commission and other state associations to draw in the power of many,” he said. “We want to engage and educate our legislators to make them aware of our visions while continuing to educate the homeowner, excavator and utility professional.”

The past 40 years have seen significant changes at O.U.P.S. and in the damage prevention industry as a whole. Lipscomb sees his one-call center involved in spearheading changes for the next 40 years and beyond.

Join O.U.P.S. in celebrating its 40th anniversary at its annual meeting in August. More details about the event will be available at www.oups.org. During the annual meeting, O.U.P.S. staff and board members will highlight how they became one of the first one-call centers in the nation offering an easy single notification option for excavators and how they strive to remain a leader in the damage prevention industry. Not only because it is their mission, but because their leaders believe it is the right thing to do.