Every year, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) provides funding opportunities to states and stakeholders to improve and protect pipeline safety. One way that is done is by promoting the “damage prevention” process – known by many as the “Call Before You Dig” program. Through a number of grants, PHMSA supports programatic improvements and physical infrastructure funding. This year, two of these grants highlight key technological best practices of particular importance.

Through its State One Call Grant Program and its State Damage Prevention Grant Program, PHMSA spotlighted two technologies in a “Highlighted Initiatives” portion of the funding opportunity for 2023. Those are “enhanced white lining” and “enhanced positive response.”

Enhanced white-lining points to the practice of electronic white-lining or virtual white-lining. This is a digitalization of the pre-marking process whereby excavators provide notice to the one-call center, utility owners, and locators of where exactly their digging will take place. Traditional pre-marking, or white-lining, is done on site with white spray paint. This can be very beneficial for narrowing down the dig site and providing clarity to locators. However, it can be cost- and time-intensive. Making this process virtual can save time and money and provide all parties the opportunity to see the pre-marking from their own respective locations. Through a one-call center’s platform, electronic white-lining affords utility owners and locators a view into the dig site before arriving on scene, and affords excavators an opportunity to draw their pre-marking on an overhead map from their office or another site.

The second highlighted initiative is enhanced positive response, which is a closing of the communication loop with comprehensive information passed on to the excavator. When the excavator calls 811 or provides notice online, they open a communication loop that is only closed when all buried facilities on site have been marked and the locator tells the excavator that they have completed their job. The problem is that traditionally, spray paint markings on site have been viewed as an acceptable “positive response” to close this loop, but leaving some ambiguity in the event that most but not all facilities were marked, that one or more locators were not able to access or complete the job on site, or that the markings are disrupted before excavation begins. Through enhanced positive response, facilitated through a one-call center platform, the locator can pass along a package of information such as digital photographs, ticket data, virtual manifests, and in some cases, facility maps. This gives the excavator better insight into the presence and location of any buried infrastructure as well as information to cross reference physical markings with before and during the excavation. Use of enhanced positive response has been demonstrated to reduce damage by up to 67 percent.

PHMSA highlighting electronic white-lining and enhanced positive response is consistent with PHMSA’s own 2017 Report to Congress and the Common Ground Alliance’s vision of the ideal dig of the future. These two techniques – both of which are consensus best practices according to damage prevention stakeholders – are proven to reduce damage and improve safety for workers and buried infrastructure.

As National Safe Digging Month highlights the need to call before every digging project, this development from PHMSA is a key step in reforming and improving the system itself so that every excavator and locator utilizing the One-Call notification system can have increased confidence and more detailed information to do their work safely and efficiently.


Written by Benjamin Dierker, Executive Director


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.