Infrastructure And Resilience --- The New Pride And Prejudice

Curtis BartellI was going about my normal business the other day when an article from the Associated Press written by Matthew Daly And Hope Yen, and titled "Lawmakers: Ida damage shows need for infrastructure upgrades" landed in my inbox. I’m one of those weird people that sees “lawmakers” and “infrastructure” in a sentence, and am drawn to it with amused interest. Usually, I am interested academically…a lot of other times as a pure masochist…and still more often than not, like this time, with snarky anticipation. “Oh, what joyous, twisted misinformation do we have here?”

The article summarizes quite aptly (kudos to Mr. Daly and Ms. Yen) the rationale applied for the monstrous, record-smashing infrastructure bills being batted about the House and Senate. Having attended many a hearing and heard the unique spin of most lawmakers, then read/listened to the spin of multiple news reports of the exact same hearing…I am always led to wonder “were the writers/reporters sitting in the same room I was?” But in reading this article it seems the lawmakers’ spin is much more sinister.

And I mean that in every sense of the word. Miriam Websters says --- Sinister, of ill omen by reason of being on the left. If anyone else is a fan of Joe Kenda and Homicide Hunter, you will appreciate it when I say, “oh, my my my…isn’t that interesting.” Of course, some readers may think I am speaking of politics…far from it. In fact, not at all. I’m holistically referring to “those who support varying degrees of social or political or economic change designed to promote the public welfare.”[Princeton’s WordNet]

The article provides a couple of important quotes to the points I will make below. Pride: “It’s about resilience," Biden said. “Make our roads and highways safer. Make us more resilient to the kinds of devastating impacts from extreme weather we’re seeing in so many parts of the country."

And this one: Prejudice “We have to start planning for what the future might hold and do modeling that’s going to help us predict what these future risks are going to be,” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell told “Fox News Sunday, "calling the increasing frequency of severe storms that intensify more rapidly “a new normal" because of climate change. “These threats aren’t going to go away, and we need to start to reduce those impacts.”

Let me break this apart and then reassemble in accordance with real resilience. There I said it…”real resilience” implying the lawmakers are largely wrong in their logic. Here goes…“Resilience (rəˈzilyəns) n. the predictable provision of essential infrastructure, capabilities, and services through a wide range of changing circumstances, anticipated and unanticipated©.” This definition was copyrighted by Mr. Jeff Gaynor, one of our nation’s thought leaders in the resilience arena complete with significant Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pedigree.

As I have said before, there are many disciplines within resilience (i.e., any program that establishes resilience), none of which are resilience. Each contingency discipline (security, emergency management, critical infrastructure, continuity etc.) relies on the others to holistically succeed in my view. Therefore, resilience planning, preparedness, and program management should not be weighted down by specific catalysts (such as climate or severe weather or aging infrastructures) as THE cornerstone foundation(s).

Instead, I am advocating for risk scoring to prioritize and consider an “anticipated and unanticipated” management imperative…or in this case, a national economy busting imperative. Resilience should be like blind justice and be blind to the catalyst when considering the functional priorities…either they are a priority or not…whether the fire was started by an arsonist or an electrical failure. What difference does it make? Whether a port is closed due to severe weather or an oil spill, real resilience makes no distinction.

Resilience is NOT a unique term to the world of infrastructure or climate…it just isn’t no matter how much it is associated with such. It’s like saying dairy is only for the ice cream industry. Even DHS has hijacked the term to mean only infrastructure-related initiatives…even if they were to apply to “critical” infrastructure it would be more appropriate. Aren’t missions, functions, or personnel deserving of real resilience? What about national, homeland, and economic security? I’m pretty sure those are all deserving of real resilience.

I don’t want to split hairs over nomenclature but darn if it isn’t confusing lawmakers away from the real issues of resilience. Not once did I read where they were discussing vulnerabilities? FEMA is attempting to look into the crystal ball to predict “future risks” based on persistent threats and requisite impacts. Got it…not bad but still no mention of vulnerabilities to round out the risk calculus.

It's like lawmakers are playing rock, paper, scissors and want to put paper over the rock of climate or weather disasters…all of them…however you want to define them or argue them (which I do not argue simply because I’m not learned on the various data available that seem to support a diverse range of thought.)

I can reason it all this way: If a bridge in New Orleans has been damaged five times in the last 20 years due to every-couple-of-year hurricanes and a bridge in New Jersey has been damaged two times in the last 20 years due to two 100-year storms…I’m pretty sure I know where the risk is higher, and therefore where the investment should be prioritized. Resilience is complex, but it is not complicated.

Dear lawmakers…on both sides of the aisle…”infrastructure resilience” is not resilience. Make us all “completely and perfectly and incandescently happy” (Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice) and open your aperture to the realities of true assessments of risk before passing the most expensive application of funds (real or imaginary) in the history of mankind. It would be a national shame if honest, quantifiable risk data were ignored.

About the Author

Curtis Bartell is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Covenant Park Integrated Initiatives, Inc., a small consulting firm in Fairfax, Virginia. He is also owner of Covenant Park Preparedness Systems Integration, LLC. Both firms provide some of our nation's thought leadership on and practitioners of organizational continuity and resilience and are leading new markets as an end-to-end preparedness systems integrator. Covenant Park provides comprehensive, integrated preparedness planning and capabilities for clients which includes support to multiple global commercial corporations and national level federal organizations. Mr. Bartell served as a past President of the Mid-Atlantic Disaster Recovery Association (MADRA), a regional network of resilience professionals. Mr. Bartell has served on multiple, interagency national and international level policy and planning organizations during his 20 years in the federal government and over 15 years in the private sector. More info...