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Life, they say, is uncertain. While some argue this calls for eating dessert first, governments and businesses take a different approach. They make contingency plans that detail what to do in a disaster and how to handle the unexpected.

But some events can be catastrophic across a region, and that calls for a more comprehensive approach. That’s where the Department of Homeland Security’s Regional Resiliency Assessment Program (RRAP) comes in. RRAP projects, which typically run for three years, identify vulnerabilities in regional power grids, water treatment systems, transportation networks or other complex critical infrastructure systems. The projects then suggest ways to address the vulnerabilities.

That is difficult, which is one reason why DHS turns to the expertise found in national labs, such as Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Kelly Wilson, a senior critical infrastructure analyst at INL, noted that evaluating the risks in a single water pumping station is relatively simple. Doing the same for a region’s entire water supply isn’t as straightforward.

“When you’re looking at hundreds and hundreds of miles of a system owned and operated by many different people, then it gets more complicated,” she said.

An example of such issues can be seen in an RRAP project Wilson is working on that is currently underway with the state of Hawaii. Lt. Gov. Josh Green hosted the first Hawaii Maritime RRAP meeting in September, with a focus on preparing for and responding to catastrophes that impact the ability to bring in necessities. Such a scenario could unfold if a Category 3 or higher hurricane struck the port of Honolulu, through which 80 to 90% of the island chain’s goods pass.

“In the end we have to be able to get our infrastructure repaired and get goods and services in,” Green said of such an event.

A RRAP team visited the office of Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is championing the project, in September 2019. Left to right: Kelly Wilson from INL and Christopher Brogger, Adam Davis and James Cruz from DHS’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency.

There are various ways this might be done, such as using other ports, landing goods directly on beaches, or bringing items in by air. But each of these solutions has drawbacks. Other ports, for instance, do not have the crane, rail or warehouse capacity to move in the goods needed daily to sustain millions of people. As for going by air, Hawaii is thousands of miles from land, making transporting enough items by plane extremely difficult.

“It takes a lot of expertise to figure out what the best model is,” Green said.

INL’s Wilson noted that the 2010 Haiti earthquake knocked out the Port-au-Prince seaport. In that case, multiple shipping methods were used. But Haiti is close to the mainland United States while Hawaii is much more distant.

A factor in any regional response plan is that much of the infrastructure is in private hands, such as independent shippers. These private stakeholders, therefore, must be a part of the RRAP project, Wilson said.

Public and private sector cooperation is essential for RRAP success, according to Brian Lacey. A senior technical consultant at INL, Lacey is working on an RRAP project for Idaho that involves the state’s supply of liquid fuels. The regional risk in this case might come from the Wasatch Fault, which runs from about 45 miles north of the Idaho-Utah border, south through northern and central Utah. This active seismic fault has and can produce major earthquakes. Because of their strength and the fault’s location, they would affect the regional fuel supply.

“That would have a significant impact on the petroleum supply because the main pipeline runs through there,” Lacey said.

In evaluating regional resiliency of this critical infrastructure, Lacey has worked extensively with the private sector. In doing so, he does not seek information that a business would consider confidential, such as pricing. What he has asked about, though, are such key elements such as minimum power requirements and backup generator plans. That type of information is vital to have on hand so that planning can take place before a regionwide disaster happens.

As for what’s delivered in an RRAP report, that depends upon the nature of the project. There may be infographics, a written summation of the findings and suggested fixes as well as more highly technical presentations in the form of geographic information system overlays. Typically, this is done about halfway through the project, with the latter part of the three-year span and any leftover funding going to implementing one or a few of the recommended corrective actions.

For DHS and the federal government, RRAP projects, which are awarded on a competitive basis, provide insight into critical infrastructure, information that might otherwise not be visible. Hawaii’s Green noted that total coordination across public and private sectors is something that the RRAP approach offers state and local governments, along with access to expertise.

Green said the national lab professionals engaged in the RRAP process have been knowledgeable and hardworking. They’re also, he added, open to input, an important point given Hawaii’s unique situation and demographics.

Beyond that, the whole RRAP approach fits well with Green’s preferences, which he developed from doing his other job. “I’m an emergency room physician, so I’m very focused on emergency preparedness,” he said.

 

Posted Jan. 14, 2020

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