The recent Colonial pipeline cyber attack and ensuing disruption implicates excavation damage prevention. As industry stakeholders continue to strengthen their damage prevention systems, greater use and reliance on effective technology will be critical.

Damage Prevention is the overarching process of avoiding harm to pipelines and other underground infrastructure when digging or excavating anywhere in the country. It relies on communication between the excavator and the pipeline operator, as well as a host of other parties like locators and One-Call center personnel.

A number of technologies and techniques exist to ensure digging projects are safe and that subsurface infrastructure is unharmed. Enhanced Positive Response (EPR) is one best practice and innovative solution to avoiding damage, that has been demonstrated to reduce excavation damage by 67 percent. EPR allows efficient information-sharing between all relevant stakeholders and minimizes the need for on-site oversight.

The Colonial pipeline hacking led to disruptions that could have decreased Colonial’s capacity to respond to excavation notices. With a focus on combatting the cyber intrusion and restarting service, safeguarding the existing physical pipeline from excavation damage possibly received less attention. This potentially leaves Colonial exposed to greater risk – that of an excavation incident because of an uninformed excavator somewhere along the 5,500-mile system. Colonial currently requires a Colonial representative to be on site during any excavation near their pipeline. This labor-demanding practice is unnecessary with secure, effective, and informative digital information sharing through EPR and other innovative practices.

EPR allows excavators to have access to site photos, virtual manifests, ticket information, and virtual maps, before breaking ground. That means that the pipeline operator does not need to visit the site personally to oversee the excavation, and can securely share information electronically.

Existing infrastructure needs to be protected, and future cyber attacks will lead to similar distraction from excavation damage prevention. EPR can shore up the information sharing so that all excavators across the country are able to have critical enhanced information about a site, regardless of the political, criminal, or bureaucratic issues taking place at the corporate utility level.


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.