Keeping Terrorist Sabotage of Our Infrastructure in Context

Or, it’s the natural disasters, stupid (boldface mine):

Our energy systems are so big, complex and spread out, that they are doomed to fail on occasion, sometimes in ways that cascade catastrophically through the system. The electrical grid is especially vulnerable to such cascading failures, and that’s what has Wellinghoff worried: If a tiny glitch over here can blot out the lights and air conditioners and commerce to millions over there, then a well-orchestrated terror attack could disable huge swaths of the nation and its economy. But other experts argue the opposite, that the very complexity of the system makes it difficult if not impossible to know which “nodes” of the grid need to be knocked out in order to trigger a cascade, or protected in order to prevent one.

It’s difficult to imagine what securing the electrical grid — or for that matter, the oil and gas pipeline grid — against physical attack might look like, or cost. So many of the critical pieces of the grid are miles and miles from the nearest cop, or even residence, that an attack, even if detected by surveillance cameras, could go unanswered for hours.

We’d be far better off focusing all of this energy not on securing the grid, but making it more resilient to the real threats: climate, weather, human error and equipment glitches. That, in turn, would enable it to handle a terror attack, on the rare chance that one would occur. Start by encouraging the creation of micro-grids and distributed generation — the less centralized your system, the less vulnerable it is to massive failure. Encourage efficiency and demand response. The less energy we use, the less burden we put on the infrastructure that produces and transports it. And stop worrying about guys with night vision goggles and guns and go after the really scary folks: The corporations who are skimping on infrastructure in order to save a buck, thereby imperiling not just our power supply, but people’s lives and the environment.

It’s worth reminding everyone that, in 2009 and 2010, Very Serious People were wondering how on earth could we find productive ways to spend money. It’s also worth reminding people that a strong regulatory regime would force very profitable rent-extracting utilities to make these upgrades–which would also provide jobs.

We are governed by fools and sociopaths.

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2 Responses to Keeping Terrorist Sabotage of Our Infrastructure in Context

  1. Min says:

    “We are governed by fools and sociopaths.”

    “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
    — Mark Twain

    “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”
    — Mark Twain

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