USPIDEDOWN Project -Spatial Metadata Protection for the underground Critical Infrastructures


Broadly speaking, underground infrastructure systems include TLC cables, sewage, water and gas pipelines. In some cases also electrical infrastructures can be buried along the other networks.

Damage to or destruction of the nation’s underground infrastructures by terrorist attack could disrupt the delivery of vital human services in Member States, threatening public health and the environment, or possibly causing loss of life. Contrary to common opinions, the disruption of operating or distribution system components is very complex. Due to the fact that these infrastructures are underneath and thus somehow with a low degree of accessibility, the major risk is represented by the possibility that terrorist groups may access geospatial data to locate the infrastructures, understanding the functioning of the system, planning an attack and accessing infrastructures through manholes or vulnerable working areas, to disrupt, in a number of ways, those services, assets and information technology facilities which supply vital services to our cities, citizens and institutions (water, electricity, gas, information and TLC connections).

While welcoming the efforts of the Commission to develop an infrastructure for spatial information (INSPIRE, Com(2004) 516 final) we need to concentrate our efforts in the protection of those data and those locations (manholes) which grant accessibility to the underground infrastructure, for the magnitude of the risk involved, the importance of the services supplied, the potential duration of the damages –which could last for weeks- and the psychological impact on the population of urban areas. This need is also recognized by the same INSPIRE directive, where it says: ”Account will also need to be taken of the existing legal framework in relation to data protection and copyright”.


Threats resulting in physical destruction to any of these underground systems could include disruption of operating or distribution system components, power or TLC systems, electronic control systems, and actual damage to distribution network, as well as the disruption of the vital data for the management of the entire underground network.  A loss of flow and pressure into the gas or water pipelines would cause serious problems, considering the value  placed on the assets itself and the impact on the urban life.  Bioterrorism or chemical threats (such as oxygenation of gas) could deliver massive contamination or panic, and could endanger the public health of thousands. Another type of catastrophic infrastructure failure may be when one part of the network leads to the disruption of other parts, due to the spatial contiguity or technical interconnections, causing widespread cascade effects. A simple example may be an attack with IED on underground gas utilities buried close to water or TLC infrastructures and electrical line on the surface: the entire cycle of water, data and electricity could also shut down, with the related consequences and collateral damages.


The project, led by Lombardy Region, shall contribute to support Member States efforts to prevent, prepare for, and to protect people and underground critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks and other security related incidents.

The main objectives are:

  • stimulating, promoting, and supporting risk assessments on critical infrastructure, in order to upgrade security;
  • stimulating, promoting, and supporting the development of methodologies for the protection of critical infrastructure, in particular risk assessment methodologies;
  • promoting and supporting the development of security standards, and an exchange of know-how and experience on protection of people and critical infrastructure;
  • promoting and supporting Community wide coordination and cooperation on protection of critical infrastructure.


The project results in guidelines which set the minimum standards measures of security for underground critical infrastructure to be released at the European level .

Results have been shown in a Conference held on November 28, 2014 (to see documentation click here)