News & Events

Meet ELM Elite Winner Brenda Johnston

Locating in the Lewiston, Idaho area and reporting to the Spokane profit center, our ELM Elite winner for September is Brenda Johnston. Congratulations Brenda!

ELM hired Brenda Johnston in 2005 and it was an easy decision to make. ELM had just won the contract from another company that Brenda had been working for since 2001, so effectively she was replacing herself. She received new equipment, put on safety gear with a different logo on it and went to work doing what she had already been doing for 4 years, providing excellent customer service and quality locates to her community.

Brenda is so well known in her area that in 2014 she received an extraordinary honor that is very rarely awarded to locators. She was named the Idaho 811 Contractor of the Year, an award usually reserved for excavating contractors. She says of the honor, “I was totally shocked when they told me that. I’ve been locating for a lot of people down here for 17 years now. There are good people down here.” When asked about Brenda’s award, John Phillips, Associate VP of Safety & Training added, “A lot of states and areas do this, and I don’t think I have ever seen a locator win it before other than Brenda. That’s quite an honor.”

According to Brenda, one key to her success as a locator is her insistence on always requesting verification from the utility when her marks don’t match the map. For the ticket that taught her this lesson, she had called the utility to verify her marks, however she notes there was a breakdown in communications on both sides that lead to the verification never actually happening and it resulted in a damage. “I learned then, don’t assume anything.” Brenda says, “If I don’t get what the map says I won’t let anyone dig. I won’t close the ticket until I have somebody verify that either I’m wrong or the map is wrong.”

When asked about advice she might give a new locator, Brenda stated that you should always document more than you think you might need to. She explains, “If something goes south, you’re the first one to be blamed. So, you always want to be able to back up what you’ve done.” Brenda has worked with many of the same contractors for 17 years and trusts what they tell her, but when they want her to do something different than what the ticket says she makes sure they make the proper changes to the ticket first, so she is covered in the event something goes wrong. She adds, “What seems so miniscule could really save you in the long run.”

Brenda has been married for 29 years and has an adult son and daughter. Her son works for a local contractor running a bore machine, so the two of them frequently talk about work. Several years ago, Brenda picked up metal detecting as a hobby and now likes to spend her free time searching for coins, jewelry, and other lost treasure. So far, the most interesting thing she has found is an early 1900s coin from the Philippines though she also found a lost confirmation medallion that she was able to return to its owner. This last winter, when both locating and metal detecting were slowed down due to the weather, she refurbished an old curio cabinet so she would have a place to display her findings.

Her friends think it’s strange that she has become devoted to a hobby that has lot in common with her day job and she recognizes the similarities herself. She says, “People laugh, ‘you look for stuff all day long and then you go and look for stuff on the weekends?’ Yup. The only difference is that I actually dig what I find with my metal detector.”