One of the most challenging aspects of disaster resilience is anticipating how a service disruption in one sector will cascade into other critical sectors. First-order impacts—where a failure in one sector disrupts operations in another—can seem fairly intuitive. An electricity outage that disrupts traffic lights and impedes transportation can easily be anticipated. But when that traffic disruption prevents critical employees in other sectors from getting to work—well, the next level of impacts are less clear. This is especially true in a large disaster with multiple simultaneous disruptions affecting several sectors. What is the best way to anticipate how disruptions might coincide to create such failures?
On Dec. 2-3, the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and the U.S. Department of Energy co-hosted an Interdependency Workshop that engaged more than 150 federal, state, and local emergency managers and critical infrastructure owners to map out interdependencies during three large-scale disaster scenarios. Panelists representing critical infrastructure sectors—including oil, natural gas, electricity, food and agriculture, water, transportation, and others—worked in real-time to determine how each scenario would impact their sector as well as their critical customers and supply chains.
The workshop’s three scenarios included a long-term drought across much of the United States; severe storms and flooding in the Midwest; and a cyber attack targeting financial institutions in major urban cities and natural gas suppliers. Nexight Group’s Jack Eisenhauer facilitated the panel discussions, while I visually mapped out cascading impacts among critical infrastructure sectors. The graphic at the top of this post shows a rough mapping from a hypothetical scenario.
Many of the scenarios provided “a-ha moments” for government officials and critical infrastructure owners/operators from across the country, including these:
- Cities and regions not directly impacted by each scenario would still likely see major cascading impacts from delayed shipping and transportation, disrupted food and product supply chains, and public panic from media reports.
- Cross-sector and public-private education about critical infrastructure system designs and supply chains is critical prior to an event. Rapid decision-making during an event requires a deep understanding of the consequences of sector impacts in each region.
- Planning exercises and coordination must happen within each jurisdiction and region. Because infrastructure designs are unique to each region, each scenario will have distinct impacts based on location.
- State emergency managers and other stakeholders generally have a poor understanding of how well critical sectors are prepared for long-term, wide-area energy or communications disruptions.
- Critical infrastructure investments to modernize the built infrastructure have huge payoffs, but the upfront investment needs more incentives. Efforts to upgrade the nation’s largely aging infrastructure must consider resilience for the next several decades.
NASEO will develop an After-Action Report detailing key lessons learned from the workshop, expected to be released in January.