Review of 2 Key Reports in 2014 – by Don Watson

In the past few weeks, there has been a deluge of new reports, as well as other reports that escaped my notice in past months. Since I can barely count and list them, I asked for readers’ help in reviewing them.  Don Watson was gracious enough to agree to review some selected reports on Infrastructure Risk Reduction and Resilience (DRR) and he also added some related citations.

Mr. Donald Watson is an architect and planner, author of Design for Flooding: Resilience to Climate Change (Wiley 2011) and Editor-in-Chief, Time-Saver Standards for Urban Design (McGraw-Hill 2003). He also is a major contributor to this blog.

First, a few words about the words “critical infrastructure.” The term infrastructure, more specifically, physical infrastructure, includes roads, rails, bridges, buildings, ports, airports, as well as civil structures for water, sewer, fuels, utilities, and communication systems. In short, almost everything that is man-made. It also includes structures, such as dams, levees, coastal water gates and barriers, that impact wetlands, forests, river and shoreline resources and natural systems. The term aging infrastructure is a succinct diagnosis given in the 2013 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” to characterize the need for investment to maintain U.S. infrastructure, assigning the grade of D+ based on present physical condition and needed investment for improvement. That is, even without stress or risk of disruption, to ignore such condition could itself be called an invitation to risk of disaster.

In the emerging disciplines of disaster risk reduction, the terms critical infrastructure(s) and lifeline systems have become the operating terms of reference, and include finance, health, food, security and emergency management services.

Presidential Policy Directive 21 (PPD-21) “Critical Infrastructure and resilience” identifies 16 critical infrastructure sectors. The definition of “critical infrastructure” varies across States. PlaNYC, the sustainability and resiliency plan for New York City, for example, identifies the need for designating selected gas stations, pharmacies and medical clinics to meet high standards of storm protection and operational return to service during or following an emergency.

In any combination of sectors or at any scale from local to national, there are “weak link” vulnerabilities. The emergency management field (among other strategic planning disciplines) uses “table top exercises” or “scenarios” to simulate what might happen when any particular system (a campus, a city, a region) is subject to stress and disruption (man-made or natural). Any number of “resilience” strategies can be proposed, e.g., to eliminate or go around weak links, to provide alternatives and redundancies, to “decouple” one sector from others to cut short possible “cascading impacts.” Site-scale utility systems (such as district heating and power) and integrated communications (partnerships among cell phone service providers) are examples of such strategies.

The reports and additional references cited here indicate the scale of critical infrastructure challenges following Hurricane Sandy, emphasizing the need for collaboration across private and public sectors to design for disaster risk reduction and resilience.

The best of what can come of such discussions is that widespread public understanding of critical infrastructure risks can support the scale and long-term commitment of response appropriate to improve and maintain the systems—natural and man made—by which community prosperity, safety and health are maintained and flourish.

CRS report: The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy: in Brief, by Jared Brown. Cited in this blog in Dec.

Like other CRS documents, the report is written clearly and succinctly, as a briefing paper for members of Congress. The report references several post-Sandy documents, in particular recommendations made by the U.S. Presidential Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy: Stronger Communities, a Resilient Region, August 2013.

The Report notes that, following expenditures approved to date and continuing for Hurricane Sandy Recovery, the implementation for new infrastructure projects and repair/replacement of existing infrastructure, is multi-year, even decades-long. The report provides some detail to state the need for long term commitment to disaster risk reduction, well beyond authorized Sandy recovery, requiring action singly or jointly by the executive branch, Congress, or state and local governments for lessons learned to apply to future disasters.

The larger challenge, perhaps too modestly stated in this report, is that Sandy is not the first or the last of disasters beyond our prior measures of preparedness.
….”One of many lessons learned …[in responding to prior and present disasters]… is that the long-term community recovery process from a catastrophic disaster could be just as difficult and daunting, if not more so, than the immediate response process.” [p. 10]

This is the key message delivered to Congress in this report, which will remain with the nation for decades and thus bears repeating until it resonates across all discussions of infrastructure and community resilience.

RAND.  The Hurricane Rebuilding Task Force’s Infrastructure Resilience Guidelines: An Initial Assessment of Implementation by Federal Agencies. Cited in this blog in December.

Like the CRS Report noted above, the RAND Report references the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy of August 2013. The RAND Report examines the Sandy Task Force guidelines as enacted to date, to identify lessons learned and to consider whether the same guidelines could be implemented beyond and after the current Hurricane Sandy rebuilding programs.

The CRS and RAND Reports are similar. RAND is a bit more expansive. CRS raises the need to continue Sandy Rebuilding lessons over the long term and to future disasters. The RAND study asks how resilience guidelines and lessons might be extended even more broadly, to non-disaster applications.

The RAND Report is carefully presented, based upon 67 interviews, representing government and non-governmental individuals and organizations, some who received Sandy funding, others who did not, all representing a cross section of informed actors in the disaster risk reduction field.

Among issues raised are complexities of interpretations and measures (metrics) for resilience, difficulty to evaluate intended progress, and need for more streamlined approaches to prioritizing the many plans and projects related to resilience. This is an obvious “gap,” that results from each individual community making its own plan and its own project lists, absent a regional overview.

The RAND Report describes a consensus recommendation to develop the scientific evidence to guide decisions about how to meet resilience performance standards—for more technical depth to support comprehensive strategies for resilience. Those interviewed credit the federal government for leadership in implementation of resilience guidelines as a result of its focus on resilience principles evident in all of its multiple initiatives.

Many interviewees stated how important it is to establish a community vision and project priorities prior to a disaster and to ensure that the vision is not overlooked because of immediate needs and stress in disaster recovery.

The RAND Report has additional details as to concerns identified by communities in disaster recovery. Two questions are identified as remaining for policy and program design:
• How should decision makers balance environmental concerns and preferences for risk reduction in a specific setting?
• What methods should be followed when different stakeholder perspectives affect one another in a systems context?
…pointing out that, “When the two approaches are implemented adjacently, this may compromise the performance of both and deliver a less-reliable solution for the entire region.”

If one were to summarize the recommendations, they might be stated as:
Make a plan. Stick to it. Be ready for the long haul. Engage the entire set of critical infrastructure sectors and partners, and go regional (to address the conflicts between local approaches that com promise one another).

The RAND report concludes with discussion, supported by the interviews, that “a more comprehensive consideration of how to improve national resilience may be needed.” The prima facie evidence of both the CRS and the RAND Reports is the need to response to critical infrastructure challenges is emphatically required.

The means to work towards this goal are suggested by the examples and interviews in these reports, fully cited as evidence to address critical infrastructure needs and opportunities. One can say that, ultimately, resilience is measured by how actively and effectively that goal is realized.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES for critical infrastructure and resilience:

American Society of Civil Engineers. Report Card for America’s Infrastructure (2013)

American Society of Civil Engineers. Guiding Principles for the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure (2009)

NOAA-USACE.  (2013). Infrastructure Systems Rebuilding Principles (4 pp.)

PwC. Rebuilding for resilience: Fortifying infrastructure to withstand disaster (2013)

U.S. Presidential Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy: Stronger Communities, a Resilient Region (2013).

U.S. DHS. National Infrastructure Protection Plan (2013)

1 thought on “Review of 2 Key Reports in 2014 – by Don Watson

  1. Comment from William Cumming

    Thanks for today’s excellent post and links. CIP has many predecessors including the so-called KEY ASSETS PROGRAM and NIF [Non-industrial fascilities]! All levels of government in the USA at one time or another have been asked to identify their CRTITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE.

    Oddly perhaps there is no definition of CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE in the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act [Public Law 100-707] as amended but there is a cross-link in Title VI of Stafford to the Defense Production Act, and that latter statute recently extended for 5 years does define CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE. Administrator Fugate has recently ordered under his Presidential delegation by means of Executive Order that the DPA authorities to the extent available to FEMA be implemented in all FEMA programs, functions, and activities. This is a new initiative of exceptional importance in catastrophic incidents and events and response and recovery to those events. [For language and background materials on Stafford Act and the DPA go to this link:

    While CRITICAL INFRASTRURE not defined in the Stafford Act please note the broad discretion vested in the President and delegated to FEMA Administrator [note delegations always to a position not an organization] in the following extract from Title VI of the Stafford Act:
    “Emergency Preparedness – The term “emergency preparedness” means all those activities and measures designed or undertaken to prepare for or minimize the effects of a hazard upon the civilian population, to deal with the immediate emergency conditions which would be created by the hazard, and to effectuate emergency repairs to, or the emergency restoration of, vital utilities and facilities destroyed or damaged by the hazard. Such term includes the following:
    (A)Measures to be undertaken in preparation for anticipated hazards (including the establishment of appropriate organizations, operational plans, and supporting agreements, the recruitment and training of personnel, the conduct of research, the procurement and stockpiling of necessary materials and supplies, the provision of suitable warning systems, the construction or preparation of shelters, shelter areas, and control centers, and, when appropriate, the non-military evacuation of the civilian population).
    (B) Measures to be undertaken during a hazard (including the enforcement of passive defense regulations prescribed by duly established military or civil authorities, the evacuation of personnel to shelter areas, the control of traffic and panic, and the control and use of lighting and civil communications).
    (C)Measures to be undertaken following a hazard (including activities for fire fighting, rescue, emergency medical, health and sanitation services, monitoring for specific dangers of special weapons, unexploded bomb reconnaissance, essential debris clearance, emergency welfare measures, and immediately essential emergency repair or restoration of damaged vital facilities).”

    Perhaps as often the case FEMA has no implementing regulations for this language not even a parroting of the statute. Always remember Stafford and the DPA are the President’s authority and even though delegated in part to the Administrator the President can always utilize the authority vested in him/her!

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