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April 28, 2013 7:28 AM   Subscribe

Following a 1976 pipeline explosion that left nine people dead, cities adopted the color-coded spray paint DigAlert system to mark the presence of various kinds of buried municipal infrastructure. If you've ever wondered what those marks on the ground mean, the Design Decoded blog breaks it down for you. (The previous entry in their Decoding the City series explained the Fire Diamond.)
posted by Horace Rumpole (25 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I worked for some time as an underground utilities locator. Awful job. So, when you see those markings, remember that they are the result of some poor sap going down underground into a teeny tiny little hole of a room full of spiders and mold and hooking clamps onto pipes all day long.

Fuck that job.
posted by broadway bill at 7:55 AM on April 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was not aware of the origin of that system, but working in civil engineering a couple decades ago, I quickly learned that no earth got turned anywhere until the utility locators had come on the scene and marked up the proposed work area with their colorful palate of spray paints.

Where I worked and still live, suburban Chicago, the system is known as J.U.L.I.E, Joint Utility Location Information for Excavators, and the actual marking activity went by the vaguely 4-20-ish designation "joint meet"
posted by hwestiii at 7:58 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


This reminded me to look up why so many times I see USA painted on the street next to abbreviations and symbols I do understand. Stands for underground service alert.
posted by birdherder at 8:21 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I grew up in a new town where all the power and phone lines were buried, so there was always a lot of spray paint on the sidewalks and verges. In second grade, my friends and I were walking home from school when we discovered an area where a worker had marked an underground communication line right through where someone else had walked their dog.

Tiffany immediately pointed at the poop and started prancing around, shouting, "O-inge dooky-dook! O-inge dooky-dook!" We all joined in.

To this day, when I see spray paint on the grass, a tiny voice shouts "O-inge dooky-dook!" and I feel a little thrill.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:24 AM on April 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just in cast you ever wondered what that truck next to you is carrying, or just wondered what that white diamond with the four digits is, here's a PDF of the 4-digit hazmat codes.

Unfortunately, it's in alphabetical order of the materials, and not numerical order of the codes.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:34 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've often thought "Call Before You Dig" would be a great name for a funk band.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:37 AM on April 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


The guys who work at the construction site next to my office probably need to learn more about this stuff; they broke the water main to our multistory office building twice in about a week a while back.
posted by limeonaire at 8:48 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Horace Rumpole, I almost posted this yesterday! I can't wait for the rest of this series. Design Decoded is great.
posted by Miko at 9:15 AM on April 28, 2013


My city (and I'd expect a lot of older cities) has no idea where a lot of underground infrastructure is. Water lines, sewers and gas lines were put in as long as 150 years ago and a lot of maps were lost over the years.
posted by octothorpe at 9:38 AM on April 28, 2013


Unfortunately, it's in alphabetical order of the materials

Here ya go.
posted by localroger at 9:48 AM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


This made me go download an iPhone app with all of the hazmat codes, so in case there's a materials spill and I'm spontaneously elected chief of the nearest fire brigade, I'll be able to properly choose between flooding quantities of water or do not use water.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:13 AM on April 28, 2013


This only explains the colors, not the symbols, e.g. what does the stylized S as in the SS symbol mean?
posted by zug at 11:24 AM on April 28, 2013


I often see OUPS painted on the roads in Ohio. I didn't know it's the local underground locator service. Eponysterical.
posted by jjj606 at 11:49 AM on April 28, 2013


My father was a firefighter in a town with a fertilizer plant and took serious hazmat training for it. He taught me what the diamond placards on trucks meant, and some of the four-digit codes that you also see. It made passing trucks on road trips a lot of fun. 1203, that's gasoline. 1072, that's oxygen. 1075, propane.

I once pointed at a diamond that had zeroes in all three sectors and asked "What's that?" He replied "Milk." "How can you tell? There's no code number." "The tank says 'Johnson Dairy'."
posted by Spatch at 12:06 PM on April 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


The Wisconsin alert network is called, sensibly yet a bit unmemorably, Diggers Hotline. It uses the newish 811 designation, which is being/has been rolled out nationwide. So now you don't even need to know your state's name for the service.
posted by dhartung at 2:35 PM on April 28, 2013


That's pretty cool. Mr. booksherpa & I just called them utility runes.
posted by booksherpa at 3:06 PM on April 28, 2013


My city (and I'd expect a lot of older cities) has no idea where a lot of underground infrastructure is. Water lines, sewers and gas lines were put in as long as 150 years ago and a lot of maps were lost over the years.

I saw a hole in a street in lower Manhattan that looked like an archeological dig. It was probably 10x10x10 feet, and completely crisscrossed with various utilities and pipes and tubes of varying ages. It must have taken FOREVER to get all the dirt out of there.

The guys who work at the construction site next to my office probably need to learn more about this stuff; they broke the water main to our multistory office building twice in about a week a while back.

The problem with the system is that depth isn't always guaranteed. I've seen plenty of "buried" low voltage cables end up not buried after a few years of frost heave and not starting out deep enough. My house's cable line was cut by a guy with a sod cutter. (Really only goes down an inch or two.)
posted by gjc at 5:56 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Literally three hours ago I noticed some new utility marks in front of my apartment and thought to myself, I should Google those things to figure out what they mean. And then I forgot all about it because I went down a Metafilter-hole, and now I come across this post. Perfect; thanks for posting.
posted by andromache at 7:40 PM on April 28, 2013


This only explains the colors, not the symbols, e.g. what does the stylized S as in the SS symbol mean?

Nazis.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:04 PM on April 28, 2013


It uses the newish 811 designation, which is being/has been rolled out nationwide. So now you don't even need to know your state's name for the service.
This is more for those people who don't own landlines. National cell phone carriers don't really care to keep track of the local districts and automagically connect you to the right one unless it's either 1) easy, 2) cheap, or 3) mandated by law (like 911)
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:48 AM on April 29, 2013


An alternative site to look up different codes is the NOAA web site.
posted by k5.user at 10:21 AM on April 29, 2013


Another great Decoding post: Decoding cattle brands.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:28 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


My all-time favorite bit of decoding trivia is decoding bread tags.
posted by Miko at 6:31 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


The guys who work at the construction site next to my office probably need to learn more about this stuff; they broke the water main to our multistory office building twice in about a week a while back.

No kidding. A few months back the crew doing work in front of my office hit a line and knocked out power to the building and a good portion of the Strip District for several hours.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 6:59 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My all-time favorite bit of decoding trivia is decoding bread tags.

While you're at the store, grab some milk.
posted by zamboni at 8:48 PM on May 1, 2013


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