“Black Sky” Infrastructure and Societal Resilience Workshop

Published on 16 January 2017

Executive summary

Problem Statement

In the modern world, our lives are empowered, enriched and sustained by unprecedented access to clean water, electricity, food, health care and pharmaceuticals, and a wide range of other vital products and services. In most modern nations, when disasters strike and the interconnected infrastructure networks that supply these goods and services fail, utilities, corporations, government agencies and mass care NGOs have always been able to depend on the continued availability of these networks in most of the country, setting aside other priorities to come to the aid of the affected region.

In Black Sky hazards, long duration, potentially nationwide power outages and associated cascading failures of all lifeline utilities will drastically limit availability of such “external” support, precisely at the time when it is desperately needed by the population. Thus “scaling up” disaster plans that depend on such external support will be insufficient to meet the unique needs of these severe scenarios.

In addition, to sustain or restore its services, each utility sector typically depends on products and services it receives from other, interdependent sectors. In a Black Sky outage, advance preparations of any one sector, without common, well-coordinated preparations across many sectors, will be unsuccessful due to the lack of these sector-external products and services.

Solution Approaches

Given adequate, well-coordinated advance planning and associated limited, prioritized investment, preparing for these uniquely severe hazards is well within the capabilities of UK corporations and their government and NGO partners. However, since no single sector today can function without the partner sectors each depends on, coordinated planning and engagement is critical. To resolve the problem of sector interdependencies in highly disrupted environments, such planning must be remarkably broad, addressing the full range of essential sectors. It must also be operationally focused, designed to ensure each sector’s planning addresses its unique Black Sky mission, with associated recommended “internal” requirements or resilience measures to be taken by that sector, and recommended “external” requirements representing a sector’s needs for support from other sectors.

Key discussion points

Black Sky Hazards should be high on decision makers’ agendas. As Lord Rees put it, “our power grids are becoming ever more crucial. Cities will be paralyzed without electricity, and the lights going out will be the least of the consequences… everything else that urban life depends on is vulnerable to breakdowns, errors, or even intentional sabotage of the system.”

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