Sunday, January 8, 2017

Houston, we have a problem: It's Not Your Grandfather's Infrastructure

Fasten your seatbelts: The New Year has arrived — and with it, the Great Infrastructure Debate. In a time of when partisan rancor has reached record levels, infrastructure stands alone as a bipartisan refuge — one issue both parties can agree on.
The economy seems to feel the same way. Mention infrastructure, and markets respond. Investors give cement and construction machinery stocks a pop, as visions of Eisenhower's Interstate Highway Program dance in their heads. Ribbons of steel and rebar, replacing roads and crumbing bridges built by FDR's Works Progress Administration mark infrastructure as the tonic to our anemic economy.
But the sinews of what connects America in the 21st Century have changed. This isn't your grandfather's infrastructure: Bridges, tunnels and roads are just part of the story.
Today, our infrastructure extends to the national power grid — currently a patchwork of lines, nodes and often antique switching towers we rely on to move energy to where we need it — to the internet itself, which has a physicality we easily overlook in this Age of the Cloud and Wireless. These systems, marvels that they are, come closer to tin-can-and-string contraptions than the modern version we would build if we began the work today.
And both the internet and the energy grid must not only be rebuilt, but hardened, against the threat of EMP — Electro-Magnetic Pulse — whether "man-caused," via a nuclear detonation in the Earth atmosphere by madcap Kim Jung-Un or via solar flares (nothing personal, Planet Earth!) which appear to be spiking now. Readers of Ted Koppel's "Lights Out: cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared," a frightening exploration of our vulnerability to cyberattack on our energy and information grids, suggests that we are all just a matter of hours from a Hobbesian state of nature of "all against all."
In fact, all of our progress to date has conspired to make us extremely vulnerable to an urban apocalypse. Very few of us will know how to cope with even the temporary loss of our cellphones, and we won't be able to ask Siri to ask for an app on how to purify rain water or set a squirrel trap for dinner. Far better to harden the Grid now than learn how we fare living without it.
For projects of this scale, what is our shopping list? It includes some common materials and others decidedly less-so. ...
Read the rest of this IBD Commentary HERE.

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