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Resilience Governance for Infrastructure Dependencies and Interdependencies: A Practical Model for Regional Critical Infrastructure Resilience

Topics: Supply Chain, Critical Infrastructure Theory, Policy and Practice,

Throughout the 20th Century, American communities became increasingly reliant on infrastructure systems that extended well beyond the reach of their direct control. With the dramatic expansion of the electrical grid, the development of the interstate highway system, the construction of a continental network of fuel pipelines, and the building of long-range water distribution networks such as the Colorado River Aqueduct, the infrastructure that major metropolitan regions rely upon for energy, transportation, water, and communications reach across multiple local, state, and even national jurisdictions. Not only have individual infrastructure systems become more expansive, they have become increasingly interconnected and interdependent. This trend has only accelerated in the current century with the pervasive integration of internet enabled devices into physical systems.

The evolution towards sprawling and connected systems have been animated by a desire to provide more services for growing urban populations while boosting efficiencies and reducing costs. However, one unintended consequence is that there is a growing risk of cascading and far-reaching failures when there are man-made or naturally-occurring disasters. Disasters that once were local in their impacts can now generate consequences that are regional, national, and even global. Managing these risks, especially as infrastructure ages and threats become more severe, requires communities to reexamine the ways in which they prepare for, respond to, and recover from inevitable shocks to the systems they own, operate, and rely on.

The Global Resilience Institute (GRI) at Northeastern University’s examination of disasters to include Superstorm Sandy (2013), Hurricane Joaquin (2015), Boston’s “snowmageddon” (2015), wildfires (2016), a potential Cascadia mega-earthquake (2017), and more, has shown that the governance structures for managing critical infrastructure risks have not kept pace with the scope and complexity of these systems. With funding from the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute (CIRI), a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence located at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, GRI has examined these governance challenges in two regions: The Metro Boston Region and the Pacific Northwest. Through a survey of existing literature and several major workshops that brought together infrastructure owners and operators, emergency managers, and major industry stakeholders, GRI has identified three key barriers to building more resilient infrastructure governance structures:

  1. Regions currently have no way to evaluate in advance how prepared they are to handle foreseeable risks or to assess their capacity to respond to uncertainties associated with major disasters.
  2. Regions lack an integrative approach for advancing resilience across inherently interdependent critical infrastructure systems.
  3. As a nation, we lack appropriate frameworks for managing organizational and governance issues on a regional scale.

Through its work in these two regions, GRI developed a framework for other communities looking to undertake their own resilience building efforts. The process is illustrated in the graphic on the following page.

This process is built around six critical elements that make resilient governance building possible:

  1. Leveraging a neutral convener to empower an open regional conversation about a critical but sensitive topic.
  2. Employing a well-understood recent disaster or a wellmodeled, predicted event to baseline the challenges that stakeholders will need to understand and overcome.
  3. Scaling the challenge to manageable proportions by selecting two or three critical functions (systems or systems-of-systems) and evolving the development of the final governance structure over time.
  4. Identifying and engaging the relevant regional stakeholders to include public officials, private corporations and relevant associations. As far as possible, leveraging existing regional organizations, associations and collaborations.
  5. Using existing plans to validate and baseline the regional challenge as the basis for action.
  6. Collaboratively developing practical, affordable, regionally-tailored solutions through consensus and experience.

By employing this framework, regions in search of a baseline process can adopt and develop these six elements to their communities’ unique needs and circumstances. Using this model as a guide will position communities to not just survive, but thrive in the face of 21st Century turbulence.

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