Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Critical Infrastructure Roundtable

The National Academies, through the Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment of the National Research Council and the National Academy of Engineering, is convening a series of activities aimed at addressing the most pressing vulnerabilities associated with critical interdependent infrastructure systems. A dialogue between government, industry, and academia has been established to facilitate development of a long-term strategy for reducing the vulnerability of the nation’s infrastructure to debilitating failures, whether from terrorist acts, natural disasters, or accidental failures.

BACKGROUND

The nation’s physical infrastructure represents an enormous capital investment—some credible estimates exceed $10 trillion. At the same time, it is an economic engine of enormous power—in reality, it is the enabler of the entire U.S. supply chain. Both factors argue for considerable self-interest on the part of government, business, and the public at-large to ensure that the flow of services provided by the nation’s infrastructure continues unimpeded.

At a time when we are blessed with the vision to understand the value of these systems, we are alternately cursed by an inability to structure a long-term plan to sustain their viability. Numerous technical studies, and increasingly, daily news stories, have fostered an awareness of our dependence on our physical systems for economic and national security. To a long list of potential threats headed by natural hazards and terrorism, we must add interdependency, deregulation, and disinvestment.

The physical vulnerability of our infrastructure is compounded by the economic realities of deregulation. Increasingly, deregulation and resultant mergers have caused utilities and other service providers to shed excess capacity. In former times, this capacity provided a buffer against outages and demand peaks. “Just-in-time” business practices also drive excess capacity from the system in the search for profitability.

APPROACHING A SOLUTION

Out of concern that an issue of major national concern is not being adequately addressed, the National Academies is convening a forum to discuss possible steps to remedy the situation. The keystones to developing a strategic approach are seen as communication and knowledge. The first step will be to establish a continuing dialogue between government, industry, and academia to discuss the protection of critical national infrastructures. This will include identifying issues and developing a roadmap for improving the reliability, safety, and durability of these vital systems. The nature of vulnerabilities must also be discussed. While the recent focus has been on malevolent acts and how to prevent them, infrastructure faces other equally serious threats. Natural hazards (earthquakes, floods, ice and snow, landslides, and extreme wind events) all negatively affect infrastructure as do prolonged service lives, aging materials, and inadequate maintenance. Despite the cause of failure, the consequences will very likely be similar.

PLAN OF ACTION

The National Academies has established a multidisciplinary Critical Infrastructure Roundtable to convene discussion groups, information-gathering sessions, and workshops to bring together leaders from government, industry, and academia. The Roundtable issues no public statements. Its regular meetings are limited to members and invited guests, assisted by staff. The Critical Infrastructure Roundtable provides:

  • provide a neutral setting for the exchange of information between industry, government, and academia about the protection of critical infrastructure, including research and practices that affect multiple sectors;
  • identify and discuss priority issues of industry/government communication and partnership that affect critical infrastructure protection; and
  • conduct problem-solving and issue-identification activities such as workshops that would address issues in greater depth.

The Critical Infrastructure Roundtable meets several times a year to gather information, host discussion groups, and deliberate issues of infrastructure vulnerability. Meetings are held in Washington, DC and other locations throughout the United States as needed. The Critical Infrastructure Roundtable is assisted in framing issues and activities through the active participation of its sponsoring members.

CONTACT
Lynda Stanley, Study Director
Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment
National Research Council
500 5th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 334-3374
Fax: (202) 334-3718 
lstanley@nas.edu