The Life of a One-Call Center Operator

The object of utility line location is to find and mark the lines that run water, sewage, gas, electricity, telephone and cable lines so that contractors who are excavating in a given area can dig without interrupting services (or causing civil calamity). It requires a meeting of the minds between the contractor and the locator, with the operators at the One-Call Center acting as crucial intermediaries – no small task with potentially millions of dollars on the line.

Location, Location, Location

When the operator answers the telephone, he or she already knows that the contractor has been on hold for longer than anybody would want to be, and that time is money (and not just in regard to cell-phone minutes). No matter the demeanor of the customer, the purpose of the call is get a thorough and accurate description from the contractor of the area to be excavated (as in, “40 feet North, starting from a point 15 meters from the Southeast curb line on Church and 15th Avenues…”).

24-Hour Service

Based on the instructions provided by the contractor, as described on the ticket by the operator, line locators will mark the locations of any and all lines in the requested areas (in some instances in as little as one day). The Ontario Call One Centre is open 24 hours, and requests to locate can also be placed via the Internet. The locators themselves, armed with such advanced devices as GPS and ground-penetrating radar, go to the site and mark (with spray-paint) the lines, which contractors must stay clear of with machinery – only hand-digging is allowed within a certain distance of lines.

Contractors understand the importance of not causing a power outage, or disrupting telephone or Internet service, or blowing up a square block by breaking a gas main, but homeowners may not. They often clog up the operator lines, demanding to know who is responsible for the “graffiti” on their landscaping rocks. Operators must patiently explain the matter – including the fact that the paint fades away in good time – in order to clear the line and get back to their essential duties. It often requires the patience of a saint.

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