Rob brings his 39 years of damage prevention experience to the table

By Michael Downes

811 Magazines

At the May meeting of the New Mexico 811 Board of Directors, members selected longtime champion of damage prevention and five-year board veteran Rob North as their next president.

And nobody was more surprised than Rob North himself.

“It was a surprise to me, but it will be a great experience,” Rob said.

Rob, who is also area supervisor for the Four Corners Area of the Enterprise Mid-America Pipeline System, and represents the pipeline industry on the board, said he is excited to see what the next year brings.

“Being president of the board will be challenging — it’s not something I’ve done before. But the other board members will guide and support me. They’ve been very supportive so far, and they’re all great to work with,” he said.

But what Rob lacks in presidential experience, he more than makes up for it in real-world damage prevention experience.

Rob started working for the Mid-America Pipeline System in 1980 and has worked directly in damage prevention since the early 1990s. Rob has moved to several different states during his career, and the pipeline system he works for has changed hands a number of times since 1980. But through it all, he’s been able to witness first-hand how the changes in attitude and action toward damage prevention have created much safer communities.

“When I started there were no One Call systems,” he said. “We responded to many third-party damages in the early part of my career, some of which involved injuries and fatalities. Because of the One Call system, these third-party damages have been almost eliminated. Especially in the business I’m in, there’s been a phenomenal decrease. Damage prevention also changed from more of a minor portion of our responsibilities to a major one.”

In Rob’s early days, making a phone call before excavating wasn’t a requirement — most states didn’t have a One Call system, let alone any laws requiring excavators to make the call. Over the years, he’s become one of the biggest proponents of one call centers that you’ll ever meet.

“I actually saw fatalities due to not having One Call systems and had to work on a lot of repairs to damaged pipelines as well,” he said. “I’ve seen first-hand the negative of not having the One Call centers. Now that they’re in place, I’ve experienced all of the positives.”

He said the one call centers protect not just the assets of the company he works for—and others across a diverse array of industries—but they also protect workers and the general public.

Rob has been in close contact with Domingo Sanchez, NM811’s executive director, and has closely followed budgeting issues since he took over as president in May. But the real changes will take place as the board gathers for their annual retreat in late August.

“We will spend a couple of days with a third party facilitator to work on how the board works within the non-profit to devise strategies, set objectives and lay out three to four main goals that we will implement, both for the One Call center and board.”

One teaser Rob mentioned for the upcoming year is continuing the push for increased public awareness of the importance of calling 811 before you dig. Even something as simple as planting a tree or replacing a mailbox post requires a call to 811, and NM811 has been hard at work over the last several years to increase public awareness surrounding the weekend warrior and professional excavator alike.

“I don’t think there’s going to be anything that’s going to be a surprise to anyone this year,” he said. “The board and executive director have worked closely in the last several years getting the finances together and have been very transparent about it. The one call center is doing well and made large payments to the facility mortgage. The biggest thing will be putting an emphasis on public awareness.”

Though he is fully dedicated to the board, you’re more likely to catch Rob in the field than in the board room. In fact, when NM811 Magazine caught up with him by phone for this story, he was working in a remote area between Albuquerque and Farmington, tucked away behind a mesa with spotty mobile service.

He is in the field a lot, still gathering more experiences that will help inform his tenure as president of the board.