Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Policy leaders need to review Critical Infrastructure for the Future

Firefighters at Gadiv Oil Refinery fire in Haifa. HAZMAT team criticized for arriving late.
 (Photo: Haifa FD - See article in our DDRS Magazine)

Disaster Managers are continually faced with elements that are beyond their control. It is a matter of fait accompli and implements response assets with what is available. In other words, it is not rocket science. But if policy makers understood the consequences based on known gaps and analysis, response agency success would dramatically improve. David Lincoln offers this overview addressing some of the issues requiring increased awareness and review in the United States.

Infrastructure Threats: The Path Ahead

There are many threats out there. Heads of industry, government officials, and private associations are raising awareness of the vulnerability of the U.S infrastructure. There is fear amongst all of them that an attack or failure in the system or technology will result in long-term consequences and potential collapse of the infrastructure.

Hostile Threats versus Natural Threats

Hostile Threats

These are the forces that threaten to physically attack and disrupt the normal operation of infrastructure. These threats include: 
  •       Terrorism: domestic and foreign
  •        Competitive domestic and foreign powers
  •         Individuals with a hostile intent towards the government or business 
The problem is that planning cycles are extremely rapid for these entities. They are constantly adapting their strategies and can evolve their tactics to new security measures.

Natural Threats

These forces that deteriorate infrastructure. These are the forces of time, weather and neglect, and include:
  • Failure of aging steel, concrete and other materials
  • Weakened structures from natural events and over use
  • Technology and process failures 

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report card gives America’s infrastructure a “D” rating. Inland waterways, levees, energy, dams, and drinking water all fall within the “D” grade from ASCE. It is estimated that the investment needed by 2020 is $3.6 Trillion.

Key Challenges to Future Infrastructure: The Big Three

Improve Coordination Between the Government and Private Sector

There is no system for government agencies to provide industry with information regarding the threats to the Nation’s infrastructure. The result is that businesses and utilities have different understandings of the security vulnerabilities, the protections that are effective, and the investments that may be required to secure their infrastructure.

To help with these problems, many state governments are integrating private enterprise into state fusion centers. This is a positive approach. Not only does it provide a way to build distributable intelligence, it makes it deliverable in a consistent and timely fashion. Another positive step are the efforts DHS is making to communicate the facts behind its risk-based approach to commercial companies. The risk profile facing companies will continue to change. There is a need to educate business on how this will impact their critical infrastructure. 

De-Centralize the Nations Infrastructure

The current trend is to centralize the nation’s infrastructure, with both technology platforms and supply chain assets functioning around a central hub. In fact, many industries, such as electric, gas and telecommunications are part of a national or regional grid structure.

Threats will come from many different angles, but will be focused on these centralized points of failure. There is a high level of inter-dependency among these systems and a single penetration into a network may have a catastrophic, cascading effect on the whole system.

De-centralizing the infrastructure may be the best defense. However, his will require a new vision and a look to the future state of the Nation’s infrastructure.

The Nation’s Aging Infrastructure

A major threat to the infrastructure is not going to come from the outside, but from within. The fact is that our infrastructure is aging, and too many are doing too little to reverse this natural decline. This deterioration will accelerate as society grows and changes. Future estimated demands on infrastructure:

·        By 2025, the global population is expected to be 7.9 billion, mostly in developing countries. A growth rate that exceeds the ability of many countries to upgrade and expand capacity of existing infrastructure.
·        Climate change will impact cities in coastal locations, resource-dependent regions and economies that are closely linked with climate-sensitive infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave this opinion of our infrastructure’s resilience. According to the ASCE, "The condition of our nation’s roads, bridges, drinking water systems and other public works have shown little to no improvement since they were graded an overall D+ in 2001, with some areas sliding toward failing grades." The opinion of William Henry, former President of the ASCE is that “We need to establish a comprehensive, long-term infrastructure plan as opposed to our current ‘patch and pray’ method to ensure a better quality of life for everyone.”

It doesn’t matter whether infrastructure is lost due to hostile or natural threats. It is essential to develop a long-range plan, in conjunction with ASCE’s ideas that addresses infrastructure upgrades. The focus has been on prevention and the restoration of assets is sometimes forgotten. The issue of aging infrastructure needs to be a national agenda item and new technologies used to monitor our critical infrastructure.

Final Thoughts 

The Nation’s infrastructure and those protecting it have many challenges in order for it to be considered acceptable by most security standards and still be profitable to the business leaders. A willingness to work with government agencies to develop a comprehensive approach to infrastructure protection, the issues of security and reliability become very correctable problems.

David Lincoln, BS, EMT-P, CFE is a Fire Battalion Chief and Disaster Manager in Texas, USA. David is in his twenty-seventh year of emergency and disaster response providing services on a domestic and international level. David is part of the disaster management team for the Texas State Operations Center and works in the Planning Section during declared disasters. David is also a guest lecturer and instructor at the Academy for Crisis Management, Emergency Planning and Civil Protection, a division of the German Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany.

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