NY problems are valid but proposals miss the real issueNY Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Schumer make proposals to harden NY critical infrastructure. Governor Cuomo is recommending that all gas stations be required to have a backup power source; solar panels or a gas generator. Similarly, Senator Schumer is pushing the Federal Communications Commission to require emergency power options for cellular communications networks.
Both proposals are important. Neither address the real problem of vulnerable infrastructure.
There is no doubt that the loss of power from any cause results in cascading infrastructure failures. Communication and fuel availability are among those failures. Reports have indicated that 40% of gas stations in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy had fuel in their tanks but couldn’t pump for lack of electricity. Its been estimated that 1 in 4 cell towers failed during the storm due to lack of power or inadequate backup systems.
But disruptions in the fuel supply and cellular communication are not the only problems created when the power goes out. People may not be able to pay for groceries at the local supermarket when power and communication to the “cash” registers is disrupted while others may not be able to breathe (for too long) at the local hospital if power to our ventilator is cut.
Ordering individual systems such as gas stations and cellular installations to establish auxiliary power corrects the problem for those pieces only and continues to leave other systems vulnerable.At issue here is a failure to harden the bigger target: the Nations power grid as well as correcting individual facility preparedness shortfalls.
The recommendations by Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Schumer are not bad ideas, they just ignore the larger problem of a weak and vulnerable electrical infrastructure. If we’re going to consider mandating gas stations and cellular companies to install backup generators, why not mandate New York hospitals to improve their backup systems? After all, going without fuel and your phone is inconvenient, going without your ventilator is fatal. Ultimately, vulnerabilities that were either undetected or ignored in the backup power systems caused hospitals to be evacuated.
This also raises the issue of civilian businesses being considered part of critical infrastructure.The U.S. power grid remains the most vulnerable of our critical systems. We’ve seen routine seasonal storms disrupt power for days, sometimes weeks. We’ve seen natural disasters disrupt services for months and Mother Nature is not the only threat to keeping the lights on.
Our Nations power grid is strikingly vulnerable to the threat of electromagnetic pulse (EMP), obsolescence and decay. Having discussion of power grids and blackouts is a difficult subject for many leaders and elected officials to talk about.
Focusing on cell service and gas stations is a lot like telling people how much drinking water they should have on hand. Its only half the story. You can have plenty of water to drink, but if you don't have enough to flush the toilet you’re going to have problems.
Why not harden the whole puzzle rather than little pieces of it?