Cross-sector Infrastructure Assessment for Better UK Resilience

As we look into the future of the UK, it is generally agreed that we must better understand and have a more positive effect on the society in which we live. Studying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the provision of infrastructure to supply water, food and homeostasis are essential for society to exist and thrive. The resilience of this infrastructure and our ability to understand how that will impact on society I would feel is critical towards our national survival and growth.

The monetary value of an asset and its impact on the regional, national and global economies can be relatively easy to measure, but this economic value may not have any bearing on its value to society.

Demonstrated in the recent power outage and also when the Somerset levels flooded a few years ago, we have little understanding on how each of our infrastructure networks interact and impact on each other. Each owner may understand their own network, but each records things in different ways and in different formats, making a cross sector analysis difficult or perhaps currently impossible.

In my opinion and many others, I interact with, the current NISMOD methodology is complex, difficult to access and requires significant data to carry out. This prevents/ reduces its use by local authorities and infrastructure owners who are reluctant to spend time and money on training staff, conducting the data collection and analysis and effectively managing the outcome.

A significant portion of the work in how to map infrastructure and define its criticality, vulnerability, recoverability and societal impact has already been done through engagement between CPNI, Government Departments and Industry.The UK armed forces are also using rapid assessment and analysis tools to assist in resilience assessment and disaster recovery in many locations around the world. As you would expect these methods are simple yet powerful in carrying out these tasks. There are multiple examples of this that have already been done.

In my opinion one of the most significant tasks for UK resilience would be to quantify, measure and create the ability to monitor the impact of each asset (and to define what level of granularity) in the on local, regional and national society.

This can have many factors which create a complex set of information variables; for example, a relatively low value water pumping station may provide clean water to a big proportion of a city or the exact same asset in a different location may provide it to a few thousand homes. Those in the city have no way of gathering fresh water from natural resources, but may be able to purchase bottled water, which can be transported in along another piece of infrastructure. So, the financial value might be the same, but the social value may be vastly different based on many different factors.

Secondly and one might argue more importantly is that the expertise to conduct cross-sector analysis from a resilience perspective (other than NISMOD) is missing. The utility of a simplified method as used by the military would allow wide-scale disaggregation of the analysis, allowing more cross sector collaboration to occur.

Having been exposed to most of the major infrastructure owners around the world and specifically their asset information management during both CAPEX and OPEX phases of the lifecycle I can see the barriers to addressing these falling as follows:

  1. Mandating any National Infrastructure Recoverability Attributes will take political, managerial and monetary resources.

  2. Each individual organisation records different information about their assets with different methods of measurement and definition. This is an interoperability nightmare when we need to combine information from across sectors in times of national disaster.

  3. Most Infrastructure is privately owned and therefore specifically directs their functional/ performance monitoring information towards economic targets. These targets are restricted to what benefits them or their shareholders.

  4. Commercially they only know that their electricity is supplied by X or that the communications is supported by Y. They don’t necessarily (need or want to) understand which substation, power line or transformer delivers it or what those suppliers rely on to uphold their delivery.

  5. They have little or no concept of how their infrastructure impacts society on a local, regional or national level.

  6. Once a database of the “hubs and connectors” across all sectors has been established this will cause its own two issues:

  7. Keeping this up to date and ensuring information is kept accurate and unpolluted (as soon as information is deemed untrustworthy stakeholders are less likely to want to rely on it).

  8. Some of the data model will contain highly sensitive information that in the right hands can be used to make significant decisions around UK infrastructure, but in the wrong hands could be used to destroy the very thing we wish to protect. Data security and controls will therefore be key strategically.

  9. Culture and history: Each organisation will have their own way of doing things and will declare that they’ve been doing it the longest and their way is best. They will then argue that everyone else must do it the way they do it. Before getting them to change or do additional work a significant barrier must be overcome in dealing with the culture and attitudes of the organisations. Removing these barriers by delivering an “outsider” solution that is already proven, is simple and will cost them nothing to educate their staff will be essential.

I feel that having a Nationally Recognised simplified approach will help to resolve all of the issues listed above.

The CARVER analysis methodology has been used since ww2 to help analyse the importance of assets in conjunction with military targeting. The method was reversed and updated by the Royal Engineers to form the basis of their “Infrastructure Assessment” methodology designed to assist in the relief efforts of countries after natural disasters. Helping to map out the cross-sector infrastructure and identify the priorities of efforts aimed at stabilising society and helping them to recover. Most recently this was conducted in Nepal after the earthquake and the British Virgin Islands after hurricane Irma hit. The methodology is documented into a standard operating procedure and taught in a 2 to 5-day course by 170 (Infrastructure Support) Engineer Group and is also presented in the Digital Advancement Academies based in the Bentley offices in London.

This proven methodology starts with identifying key assets, creating a link matrix for each sector down to the agreed level, creating a network diagram before carrying out a Criticality, Accessibility, Recoverability, Vulnerability, Effect and Recognisability study and analysis.

This single sector assessment is then brought together with other sectors and an interdependent cross-sector analysis is conducted.

The final report identifies areas of concern that are critical to national infrastructure, where vulnerabilities lay and what planning needs to be put in place to increase resilience.

A demonstration project was recently conducted using a waste water treatment plant as a microcosm of national infrastructure, as it contained interdependent “hubs and connectors” from Transport, Water, Communications, Power, Sanitation, Fuels and Chemicals. This study was conducted in using permissive and non-permissive data gathering techniques, to demonstrate what could be achieved in a disaster zone that was too hazardous for humans to be present.

The non-permissive team used autonomous technologies, open source data and their cross-sector infrastructure knowledge to deliver a full analysis of the site within 48 hours. This analysis closely matched the permissive team apart from a few minor differences. This pilot case study can be viewed on the COMIT website, who provided many of the technology partners for the assessment.

This proven approach could be easily scaled up to deal with UK infrastructure, taught to each of the sectors to ensure consistency and then brought together in a nationwide resilience database.

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