By Mike Orth President, Governments and Environment market sector Black & Veatch.
Critical public infrastructure enables everyday life. It is the power grids that provide electricity, the treatment plants that supply clean water, the transportation systems that enable emergency services and the communication networks that deliver connectivity. When a critical service is disrupted and no longer available, communities and businesses can quickly unravel, spurring wide-ranging economic impacts.
Because of this, I believe business leaders should prioritize creating and maintaining resilient infrastructure that can continue to operate under adverse circumstances.
Resilient Infrastructure Trends To Standardize
Developing resilient infrastructure is crucial in the face of future threats and challenges that can disrupt daily life. While the risks and associated potential disruptions will vary by community, there are several resilience-focused infrastructure trends that I see becoming more popular.
A power outage can bring daily life to a standstill and have a detrimental impact on essential services that sustain life and businesses. To prevent or mitigate this negative impact, it is becoming more common for infrastructure managers and commercial and industrial developers to plan for and implement resilient backup power for critical infrastructure such as water systems, data centers and other assets.
Businesses rely on these critical assets to sustain their workforce in hybrid settings, keep factories and operations supplied with water and wastewater services and maintain connectivity to the wider economy. As a supplement to the overall power grid, resilient backup power can help sustain critical community services and allow businesses to quickly regain their operational footing after a disruptive event.
Microgrids have emerged as a powerful tool in building more resilient and sustainable power grids. They can deliver backup power during an outage and are seen as cost-effective and efficient. Microgrid technology generally includes renewable energy, energy storage, fossil-fueled generation and load management.
Municipalities, public and private sector clients are constructing microgrid projects throughout the U.S. I believe that the need for lower energy costs and improved sustainability, stability and resilience are what is helping drive the market for microgrids.
Current use cases for microgrid technology within critical infrastructure include data centers, manufacturing companies and airports.
Mitigating Climate Impacts
As climate change continues to impact our environment, we are witnessing record rainfalls, extensive flooding and hazardous storm surges along our coastlines. These conditions have the potential to displace communities and cripple economies for prolonged periods.
Although it may not be possible to eliminate all adverse effects of tropical storms and floods, I believe there is much more we can do. For example, coastlines can be strengthened with erosion control and reconstruction. Flooding impacts can be reduced with proper stormwater management and floodplain restoration.
Flood Prevention Plans
Some towns and communities, including the state of Delaware, are implementing comprehensive flood prevention plans that will look at coastal risks and develop multi-benefit approaches for preventing or mitigating flood impacts.
Charleston, South Carolina, is another example. The coastal city of more than 157,000 residents has a long history of flooding that is becoming more pronounced due to development and climate change.
To address the challenges, the city of Charleston commissioned my company to develop a comprehensive, long-range flood mitigation plan and land use management strategy. One of the main goals is to help city leaders and officials understand current and future flooding risks and develop long-term strategies that promote resilience.
Protecting Against Drought
Conversely, many regions in the West experience water scarcity in the form of severe and extended droughts. Projects that supply quality water, improve water storage and promote water conservation and reuse can sustain businesses and quality of life during extended drought periods. For these areas, it is important to continue to evaluate agricultural water use and ensure we are using and reusing every drop of water as efficiently as we can.
For organizations looking to deploy best practices with their consulting partners, I recommend that you continue to innovate and plan for more intense weather patterns now. Keep abreast of emerging technologies and explore ways to leverage existing technology solutions. In addition, pursue cost-effective, clean energy strategies in the face of increasing utility costs. Ultimately, look to embrace sustainability and resilience in the long term.
Setting A Course For The Future
I believe that it is up to community leaders, business owners and infrastructure managers to build awareness and advocate for the modifications necessary to protect their assets.
To champion resilience, businesses must understand their roles and impact on the overall community. This involves becoming informed about what the community is doing to keep critical infrastructure operational in the event of potential disruptions as well as the workforce and business impacts that could materialize in the wake of disruptive events. If critical infrastructure is not resilient, even a small risk can disrupt businesses of all sizes. No water—no restrooms. No power—no point of sales systems. No telecommunication—no phone or internet connection.
Once aware of the current state of resilience in your community, it’s important to consider these actions:
• Talk to community leaders about the risks of vulnerable infrastructure and the impact on local businesses and citizens.
• Discuss resiliency plans with local leaders and learn about the readiness of the community to withstand potential risks related to climate change, extreme weather, communication system failures, etc.
• Connect with other businesses in your municipality to organize together and amplify the power of your voice.
• Engage and educate real estate community stakeholders on the benefits of selling a sustainable community to potential homebuyers.
By using our platform as business leaders and taking the initiative to improve resilience, we can harden our infrastructure to better protect and sustain our communities and businesses.
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