Explicitly considering major critical infrastructure disruptions from the perspective of crisis/crisis management enables policymakers, analysts, and researchers to draw inspiration from an extensive multidisciplinary literature. Furthermore, this approach takes infrastructure failures or disruptions, and provides crucial institutional, economic and social context that is too often ignored when such challenges are treated as exclusively technical problems. The added value from this approach enables analysts and decision makers to understand the complexity of such failures and consider the many levers—technical, economic and social—that might be used to respond to them. Attempts to understand infrastructure failures as crises are not new, but the literature—like the field of practice—is to some extent underdeveloped and continuously evolving (e.g., with regard to the challenges associated with cybersecurity), generating a need for a more comprehensive approach to understanding the leadership tasks associated with the management of such crisis events in dynamic and complex organizational environments.
Eric Stern and Brian Nussbaum
Louise K. Comfort
The management of critical infrastructures presents a specific set of challenges to crisis managers. Critical infrastructures include electrical power; communications; transportation; and water, wastewater, and gas line distribution systems. Designed for efficiency, these technical systems operate interdependently, thus making them vulnerable to the stress of extreme events. Changes in population, demographics, land use, and economic and social conditions of communities exposed to hazards have resulted in a significantly increased number of people dependent on critical infrastructures in regions at risk. Advances in science, technology, and engineering have introduced new possibilities for the redesign, maintenance, and retrofit of built infrastructure to withstand extreme events. However, most public and private agencies are not capable of anticipating the potential risk and making investments needed to upgrade infrastructures before damage occurs. Computational modeling facilitates the exploration of alternative approaches to managing risk. Sensors, telemetry, and graphic display of changing performance for critical infrastructure provide accurate information to reduce uncertainty in crisis events. These technologies enable crisis managers to track more accurately the impact of extreme events on the populations and infrastructures of communities at risk and to anticipate the likely consequences of future hazardous events. Crisis managers strive to create a continual learning process that enables residents to monitor their changing environment, use systematically collected data as the basis for analysis and change, and modify policies and practice based on valid evidence from actual environments at risk. For communities seeking to reduce risk, investment in information technologies to enable rapid, community-wide access to interactive communication constitutes a major step toward building capacity not only for managing risk to critical infrastructure but also in maintaining continuity of operations for the whole community in extreme events.