By Michael Downes

811 Magazines

With a state as large and geographically diverse as New Mexico, it’s sometimes difficult to reach each industry and resident with a consistent and powerful message.

That challenge has been taken up by New Mexico 811 Executive Director Domingo Sanchez III, who continues to come up with insightful ways to create meaningful relationships between the one call center and the public at large.

Recently he reached out to his long-time friend Keven Groenewold, CEO at New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperative Association, to open a dialogue between the two groups with the goal of increasing awareness of the state’s dig law and the benefits of being a member of NM811.

“When I came to New Mexico 811, the board wanted us to focus on outreach,” Domingo said. “Even though I’ve been here only a short time, I know a lot of people in the industry because I’m an electrical engineer, and I was a lobbyist for over 20 years on rural electric.”

Domingo and Keven met while attending New Mexico State, both were in the electrical engineering power program. Since then they’ve stayed close, and Domingo recently asked Keven if NMRECA would be willing to participate more directly with NM811. Keven jumped at the chance, and Domingo gave a presentation at a meeting.

“Domingo came to a meeting earlier this year,” Keven said. “The talk was about our members being more involved with NM811. We use their service — but this will allow us to get more involved with things we can do together to keep people safe.”

NMRCEA represents all of the electric coops in the state, 15 distribution coops, three coops headquartered out of state as associate member and two generation and wholesale providers. Many of these member organizations were represented during Domingo’s presentation.

While the Rural Electric Association only represents a few thousand miles of underground facilities in comparison to their 47,000 miles of overhead lines, buried infrastructure is critical to the customers who rely on electric power for everything from healthcare and farming operations to heating and lighting their homes. Preventing damage to underground facilities owned by coops can prevent emergency repairs to facilities in remote areas that are often costly to complete — particularly in areas where coops serve only one meter per mile line.

Keeping excavators and the general public safe and preventing expensive damage is a goal shared by NM811 and the individual power co-ops that Keven represents.

“One of my goals is to build membership in New Mexico 811,” Domingo said. “We want to improve participation and help educate people on what we do and what value we bring to our members.”

Domingo said he isn’t just doing outreach to various industries to let them know NM811 would like to partner with them, but also getting the 811 name in front of the general public as well.

And that outreach starts with residents younger than you might expect. Domingo has been increasingly focused on sharing the “call before you dig” message with elementary-age children, in an effort to make lifelong connections with future adults.

Keven said preventing damage is a two-way street; his member organizations don’t want their families damaged, but they also work hard to prevent damage to other utilities when they install or repair lines throughout the state. This new connection between the organizations will create myriad opportunities for training sessions and increased awareness of damage prevention for rural electric coops through the state.

“We don’t want a contractor digging into our power lines, and we sure don’t want to hit somebody’s fiber, that gets really expensive real fast,” Keven said. “If you’re planting a #7 pine pole every 100 feet, as soon as you don’t call, you’ll hit something — that’s Murphy’s Law. So we try to be pretty fastidious about calling 811 before we dig. Anytime we go out and do a job, we have a tailgate safety meeting. Reminders about safe digging are part of those meetings.”

Domingo said there are a lot of member benefits to joining NM811, and they can help provide training and materials on a number of safer digging topics. He specifically mentioned excavation law and providing handouts both for workers and homeowners. If your organization would like more information about keeping your workers and the public safe and preventing damage to underground facilities, contact NM811 today to set up a meeting.