The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 was the most powerful recorded earthquake in U.S. and North American history. With a magnitude of 9.2 and aftershocks lasting for 18 months, damage totaled $2.08 billion in current U.S. dollars. Alaska isn’t the only region at risk of such a disaster. A subduction zone earthquake like the one in Alaska – and the Southeast Asia Tsunami of 2004 – is also likely to hit the northwest region of the United States, and scientists say it is imminent.
Dubbed the Cascadia Subduction Zone, the area extending from British Columbia to Northern California last experienced an earthquake of that magnitude in January 1700, and the region is expected to be hit with another one within the next 100 to 300 years.
In addition to placing the lives of millions of people at risk – 1.5 million in the Portland urban area alone – a subduction zone earthquake would cause massive devastation to civil infrastructure throughout the Pacific Northwest. The societal impact would make it a major catastrophe, particularly given the interconnected nature of modern infrastructure sectors ranging from transportation to telecommunications. Interconnected both physically and virtually, infrastructure sectors are so co-reliant that when one breaks down, the others feel the impact.
Disaster preparedness planning for a major disaster must include planning for the protection of key infrastructure assets. Without a plan, experts estimate it could take at least 12 to 18 months to repair the electrical systems within the Portland urban area, and restoring other assets from drinking water to highways would also take significant time and resources. Meanwhile everyday events such as windstorms and floods also place critical infrastructure at risk.
To address the vulnerabilities of their region and identify necessary protective measures against a disaster, a collection of public and private sector organizations in the Portland five-county area – Multnomah, Washington, Columbia, Clackamas in Oregon and Clark County in Washington – banded together to create a critical infrastructure protection plan (CIPP) . The aim was to lay the foundation for improved infrastructure protection and create a more resilient community, while developing a program consistent with national priorities for infrastructure protection.
Through the process, the organizations discovered the interdependencies that exist between the various infrastructure sectors, and the essential role their relationships play in keeping the region’s assets secure.
Blueprint for a Resilient Community
In accordance with Homeland Security Presidential Directive 7 for critical infrastructure protection, jurisdictions across the country are required to identify their critical infrastructure. However, the Portland area critical infrastructure protection project was unique in two ways.
First, the CIPP integrated 17 critical infrastructure sectors, ranging from energy, water and wastewater, public health and healthcare to banking and finance, agriculture and food, postal and shipping, telecommunications and transportation. Among the objectives of the project were identifying critical private and public infrastructure, developing a method for prioritizing the infrastructure identified and identifying existing standards for security protection in each sector. Gaining insight into the various aspects of the project necessitated receiving input from each sector. This inherently involved bringing together the critical infrastructure owners and following a carefully thought-out, phased approach to the CIPP’s development.
The other unique aspect of the Portland area CIPP was the process created for working with the sectors to define, identify, evaluate and prioritize facilities as well as “truth” the results within the Portland five-county area.
“Neither the state of Washington or Oregon had initiated anything like this. The federal government provided some guidance, but we were trying to define what constituted regionally critical infrastructure, as opposed to critical at the national or state level. This was a first attempt to create a blueprint for an enhanced, protected infrastructure regionally,” said Scott Porter, emergency management director for Washington County and co-manager for the Portland area CIPP.
The first task was to create a regionally appropriate definition of “critical infrastructure.” Each sector has a stake in keeping a modern economy operational: While the transportation division protects and maintains the road, rail, transit and air infrastructure, emergency services ensures the health and safety of citizens in the event of a disaster, and the information technology infrastructure sector enables the sharing of information 24 hours a day. So creating a critical infrastructure definition that takes into consideration all of their individual vulnerabilities, risks and needs was a challenging but essential task.
“This development of a common definition was the foundation for the development of the CIPP,” said Patty Rueter, manager of the planning division for the Portland Office of Emergency Management and Porter’s co-manager of the Portland area CIPP. “Every sector had to have a voice and bring to the table an issue of importance in their sector.”
To achieve this, Rueter and Porter held a series of workshops, bringing together groups of at least three sectors at every meeting. Each asset owner identified their facilities according to thresholds that distinguished critical from non-critical infrastructure. Each asset was then described in terms of type, location, contact information and other attributes; then, using the data provided, an inventory of all assets was created. This formed an initial baseline upon which a prioritization methodology could be applied.
The prioritization approach involved using a template that scored each facility based on the impact of loss that asset would have on life safety and public welfare, lost income and replacement costs, emergency response services, the environment, cultural icons, and other systems. During the course of this process, the Portland urban area recognized the intense reliance the various infrastructure sectors have on one another. The co-managers were prompted to further explore the topic of interdependencies and how these would play into the CIPP.
With the help of a team that included private and public sector entities, an interdependencies workshop was designed to explore the relationships between the sectors. Attended by 70 regional representatives from 16 critical infrastructure sectors, the workshop provided an opportunity for members to examine sector interdependencies, validate the CIPP prioritization process, develop a more universal understanding of what resources and information are in place that may be shared, and explore sector capabilities and methods of operations.
Six different infrastructure scenarios were explored: an electrical substations attack; destruction of fuel transmission and storage; a telecommunications attack; destruction of transportation infrastructure; a terrorist attack against health services; and destruction of water resources. Participants defined response actions that should be taken in the event of each scenario, built a maximum impact timeline for each scenario, and identified the primary, secondary and tertiary impacts upon the critical infrastructure sectors for each scenario.
The results were enlightening. For instance, in one example, a dam break caused by flooding began a domino effect that included a power outage as the primary impact. Transportation was also directly impacted, with high water making all roads within the inundation zone largely impassable, and flooding the interstates and an airfield. Secondary impacts were mapped to include flooding of fire and police stations, grocery stores, hospitals, and a post office. Outage of electrical services resulted in the reduction of services such as banking, telecommunications, water and emergency response. These, in turn, impaired the delivery of food and consumer purchases.
The interdependencies workshop, in addition to the infrastructure prioritization process, led to a consensus on the single most critical infrastructure sector: energy. This was an an important step in determining where infrastructure protection activities need to take place.
“What came to the top was that without power, we are sunk. We walked out of the workshop knowing that electrical power was a common theme, thereby validating what we had already discovered during the CIPP development and prioritization process. It emphasized that we need to put a focus on the power sector, because it affects all of us,” said Rueter.
The telecommunications, water and transportation sectors were other areas identified as critical – however, the data resulting from this project is still being studied and normalized, so priorities may still shift. In the meantime, the prioritization process gave the CIPP team a good indication of the most critical infrastructure sectors, in turn helping to drive funding.
“When other organizations approach our agencies with financial resources for infrastructure protection, we now have a tool for prioritizing how that money is spent. We can make a sound decision for an appropriate and effective use of the money to make the most return,” said Porter.
The Need for a Central Governing Body
The biggest hurdle in ensuring a timely and effective CIPP implementation is securing a champion to own the next stage of the project and lead it to success. Porter says the building blocks are there. “We have a thorough plan. We need to find an individual, a government agency or a body of people to convene, see this through to completion and have accountability for it.”
In the meantime, individual organizations have already used and implemented parts of the plan. With funding from the Department of Homeland Security, water systems agencies will conduct a study of their systems, develop a plan enabling these systems to interconnect, and make physical improvements to the systems. Additionally, continuity of operations plans for cities and 911 centers throughout the region have been underwritten. Redundant communications and cyber security are also priorities, but, said Porter, “It’s a domino effect, an organic process that takes time.”
Some organizations are working on projects that, while not driven by the CIPP, are consistent with the plan’s goals. For instance, public infrastructure is being hardened in areas such as water, communications and 911 emergency services and structures like bridges. “These are good examples of ongoing work that should link into our CIPP process and be considered part of the overall infrastructure improvement picture,” said Porter.
In addition to finding an oversight body and normalizing the data from the CIPP process and interdependencies workshop, much work remains to be done to help the Pacific Northwest ensure critical infrastructure protection. Next steps range from supporting the development of statewide plans and developing Mutual Aid Agreements between public and private sector agencies, to supporting business continuity planning and conducting regional emergency exercises.
The Portland area CIPP co-managers and their partners are planning a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake statewide exercise in April 2009 that will mimic the effects of a disaster like the Great Alaska Earthquake or the Southeast Asia Tsunami. In addition to providing insight to infrastructure protection needs, the exercise will be a testament to the strength of the collaborative relationships that have been forged and nurtured through the CIPP process.
“Emergency management, and especially emergency recovery, is about the strength of the relationships built beforehand. We need to understand the systems we depend on, and who owns and is responsible for those systems,” said Rueter.
Sandra Davis is strategic director for CH2M HILL’s Integrated Security and Preparedness Solutions group, based in Seattle, Washington. She can be reached at 425-503-3462 or Sandra.Davis@ch2m.com.