President Barack Obama asked Congress for more than $60 billion to help repair and rebuild infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast. The House of Representatives finally voted Friday on a small down payment, roughly 10 percent.
As in the past, engineering experts will likely seek to build in added protections for the specific pieces of the infrastructure that failed in the storm – for example, flooded subway lines or power substations. What they don’t usually address, however, is how to protect networks as a whole.
Ignoring how everything works together is short-sighted. No matter how much money is spent, one part of the system can always go down again. As Sandy demonstrated, a failure at any point can have a cascading effect.
We must be aware of how these pieces fit together to form the larger transportation, energy or other networks that support our lives – taking a “systems engineering approach.” Then, we must make sure that at least some recovery funds are spent to keep entire systems up and running – even if one part fails.
Hurricane Sandy offered plenty of examples that show how vulnerable our infrastructure is. For example, the critical Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail line from the damaged Hoboken, N.J. station to Manhattan was knocked out of service for seven weeks – and is still on a limited schedule.