Excavation Damage

Every person is required to call 811 or notify their safe digging One-Call center before breaking ground. That is for backyard projects, tree planting, home construction, or professional-level excavation. Failing to do this threatens to expose or damage a pipeline, electrical line, telephone or Internet cable, water main, sewage system, or more.

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) released its latest Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report with data on 2019.  It revealed an estimated 532,000 excavation damage incidents costing the US $30 billion last year alone. This high number of damages has only been on the rise in recent years. This naturally begs the question:

What are states doing about it?

The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) has released a report card rating each state’s approach to excavation damage prevention. Building on a report from the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) submitted to Congress in 2017, we highlight the use of technology in excavation damage prevention efforts.

The 2020 Damage Prevention Report Card explores three key areas of excavation damage prevention laws: positive response, shareability, and quality control.

These are three subcomponents to a robust form of technology-enabled information sharing known as Enhanced Positive Response (EPR) which CGA recognizes as a best practice, and which PHMSA reported to Congress has the proven ability to reduce damages by as much as 67 percent.

Each element – positive response, shareability, and quality control – targets a specific step in the damage prevention process meant to improve communication and clarify critical issues for the excavator before breaking ground. These help ensure that all parties are aware of the proposed excavation site and have a clear understanding of whether or not underground facilities are present there, accurate marking indicating the location of those facilities, clarity on whether all markings have been accurately completed, and more information to guide the excavator when he actually begins to dig.

The current method has many weaknesses, especially related to the use of technology. While positive response is a best practice promoted by CGA, only 24 states currently have a sufficient form of it. This leaves many excavators with uncertainty about whether a dig site has been located and marked for all facilities.

Shareability, referred to as the best practice electronic positive response by CGA, is only required in 13 states. This gives all relevant parties access to an online platform to update or check the status of a locate ticket to further improve communication and clarity as well as streamline and expedite the process for greater efficiency.

Technology-enabled quality control is highly under-enforced across the states. Only one state, requires digital documentation, photos, and other information to be shared with the excavator prior to digging. Several states run a voluntary EPR program, but no laws require this. The importance of quality control cannot be overstated. It gives excavators better information, a more complete picture, and improves their confidence in digging, knowing they will not strike a unmarked or mismarked facility.

There has been progress since Aii released its 2016 report card. Most states demonstrated at least voluntary progress, with far fewer updating their laws and regulations to require and enforce the use of technology.

But as CGA reveals through the DIRT Report, damages are increasing to an alarming height, and the costs are upwards of $30 billion to the economy. Some estimates place that even higher, as much as $50 to $100 billion when accounting for delays, service interruptions, direct damage, injury and death, lost wages, and even traffic delays and other ripple effects of excavation damage.

The urgency to address this issue may mean it is time for nationwide EPR. Whether through federal action or more deliberate state reform, bolstering our damage prevention laws with technology is a must.

Read our latest Report Card to learn more.


Written by Benjamin Dierker, Director of Public Policy


The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.