GeoWorld March 2013

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Infrastructure Again Making Headlines for Wrong Reasons POSITION T BY TODD DANIELSON his issue of GeoWorld annually focuses on infrastructure, a truly vital topic. I suppose infrastructure is like a lot of things: no one notices when it's working properly, but there's widespread reaction when something goes wrong—another of many "thankless jobs." Famous examples include the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota in 2007, the 2009 "Infrastructure Report Card" that gave the U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of "D," and Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster resulting from the tsunami in 2011. There are many more examples, and as populations increase, so do the dangers. A 'Super' Blackout Todd Danielson is editor of GeoWorld magazine, PO Box 773498, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477; e-mail: 4 G E O W O R L D / M A R C H 2 O 1 3 Infrastructure failures continued to make headlines in early 2013. On Feb. 3, 2013, during the second half of the Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, a power outage caused half of the Superdome to go dark and delayed the most important game in the United States for 34 minutes. The delay caused an uncomfortable situation for TV announcers, football players and the host city of New Orleans. Entergy New Orleans, which supplies power to the Superdome, believes the problem started where it feeds power into the stadium. An electrical relay device, specifically installed to prevent such power failures, apparently malfunctioned. (Beyonce's halftime show was cleared of culpability, in case you were wondering, as she brought her own generator.) Such blackouts happen regularly, but much of America (and a lot of the world) was watching this one take place in real time. And it wasn't what New Orleans was hoping for when it wanted to showcase that it was "fully recovered" from Hurricane Katrina. Cyber Attacks Although embarrassing, the Super Bowl blackout likely had major implications only for gamblers and bookies. But a February 2013 report that was featured in media worldwide revealed a much more serious threat to infrastructure: cyberterrorism. A report from U.S.-based cybersecurity firm Mandiant said it was likely that Chinese military personnel hacked into Telvent Canada, which makes switches and other gear for oil and gas pipelines. The Chinese government denied the allegations, and Mandiant admitted a hacker could make it look like it was coming from China, but the situation is unsettling, regardless. The purpose of the cyber attacks is likely to gather information that could disrupt the operation of critical infrastructure, including power plants, chemical factories and air-traffic control systems. Several sources noted that although U.S. infrastructure is rather well-protected from physical attacks, it's very susceptible to computer-based hacks. Telvent, which has access to the pipeline networks it helped build, would theoretically be used by cyberterrorists to assume control of the systems. This is called "vendor remote access" and could cause major disruptions to needed supplies. After Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast, for example, two days of disrupted fuel supply led to hours-long lines at gas stations and reports of unruly behavior. An effective cyber attack on a major utility system could create much larger disruptions. The "computerization" of utility systems has made them more efficient and easy to operate, but some believe this also makes them easier targets for hackers large and small. To combat this, better security needs to be added into all infrastructure, much like it currently exists for nuclear power plants, which have many safeguards built into their systems. Infrastructure management certainly is a demanding and thankless proposition. Most often, it works well. But really bad things can happen when it doesn't, and every precaution must therefore be taken. The next bridge collapse, grid malfunction or cyber attack can lead to devastating consequences.

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