Desperately Seeking Infrastructure

September 10, 2019
Written by: By Barbara Champoux, CREW Network Industry Research Committee
An overflowing bayou breaks through a Texas interstate highway in the aftermath of 2017 Hurricane Harvey.  
Industry Brief - Desperately Seeking Infastructure
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Industry Briefs provide thought leadership on industry topics with a global business focus—all in a one-page brief you can read in two minutes or less. Industry briefs are written by the CREW Network Industry Research Committee, which leads CREW Network's research agenda. The committee also produces white papers annually and a benchmark study every five years, delivering data and action items to advance women in commercial real estate and positively impact the industry. 

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Urban societies depend heavily on the proper functioning of complex infrastructure systems. The convergence of several trends and conditions now pose unprecedented risks for those systems world-wide, including:

  • urbanization, which is creating a larger human-built environment, where greater damage can occur
  • the growing importance of electricity in supporting modern economic systems
  • increasing frequency and relative ferocity of natural—and man-made—disasters on a global scale
  • dearth of new infrastructure projects, compounded by aging legacy assets

The consequences of this convergence demonstrate that infrastructure systems around the world, in both developed and developing countries, are highly vulnerable. 

Critical to Communities

There are three classes of infrastructure: transportation (e.g. roads, bridges, mass transit); energy and utilities (e.g. electric power, potable water, communication networks); and social (e.g. healthcare, education, certain housing and other civic uses). Communities rely on transportation and energy/utility infrastructure systems for carrying out basic social and economic functions, and social infrastructure enables those communities to thrive.

Once limited to the developed world, urbanization has become a dominant worldwide force. Many of the world’s largest urban areas have become megacities, typically with a population of over ten million people. Contemporaneously, the world is electrifying at a rapid rate. The installed base of global power generation has grown almost 800% over the past 40 years, further exposing the inadequacies of existing foundational infrastructure.

How crowded is your rush hour subway or highway? How often is your flight delayed? Does your city experience frequent water main repairs? These minor annoyances hardly compare with the increasingly devastating effect the infrastructure dearth is having around the world. Ramifications range from stunting economic growth to undermining global competitiveness, significant job loss and lack of productivity, and injury and death. 

There are site-specific reasons for infrastructure’s deplorable state, but the commonality of these across nations include regulatory impediments, economic distress, suboptimal maintenance, bureaucratic red tape, and politics.  

Clean-up, remediation and implementation of protocol for widespread mold, which developed during construction of a multi-billion dollar manufacturing plant in Bay City, Texas. A winter coldfront caused a rapid dew point-driven condensation event (interior rain).

Disaster Strikes

Disasters, both natural (e.g. hurricanes, floods, earthquakes), and unnatural (e.g. terrorist attacks), are an increasingly common experience, severely impacting already compromised infrastructure systems that billions of people rely on. 

Infrastructure is inexorably intertwined with the economic and social well-being of a community. This reliance becomes painfully evident when critical infrastructure systems fail during disasters. Because of the network properties of infrastructure and increasing urban density, damage in one location often disrupts service in an extensive geographic area, significantly damaging complex, interdependent social, environmental, and economic systems, and leading to greater losses.

Global infrastructure desperately needs repair, replacement, expansion and resiliency. Yet, there is a global infrastructure investment gap of over $1 trillion per year.

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Clean-up at a major Houston, Texas medical center after 2001 Tropical Storm Allison hit. 

Mitigation & Resiliency

An analysis of disaster events commonly reveals the:

  • inadequacy of critical infrastructure, sufficiently resilient to withstand the forces of calamities
  • lack of mitigation strategies when they occur on the part of emergency-related organizations, industries, and communities
  • many overlapping and competing governmental agencies and private companies involved in infrastructure recovery

Robin Franks, President & CEO, TGE Resources, Inc., and a CREW Houston member, knows firsthand the costly and tragic ramifications of natural disasters on deteriorating infrastructure. As disaster first responders, Franks and her team are among the first to enter impacted infrastructure facilities. TGE engaged with a major medical center that experienced massive flooding during a natural disaster, which resulted in a complete loss of power and fresh water supply, forcing the center to shut down. TGE played a pivotal role rendering the center quickly operational again. 

Although natural disasters are unpreventable, steps can be taken to minimize their impact on critical infrastructure, including pursuing strategies for increasing resiliency. Federal Emergency Management Agency recently unveiled its National Mitigation Investment Strategy (NMIS) for improving coordinated efforts and effective risk management, streamlining effective decision-making, while ensuring appropriate review and standards. NMIS’s whole-community approach across federal, state, tribal, territorial, and local governments and the private and non-profit sectors, should accelerate infrastructure mitigation and disaster recovery, stimulating needed investment.

Effective crisis management is needed now to avoid more shutdowns of critical services and avert a global infrastructure catastrophe. Our collective economies, security, and cultures all depend on it.


Barbara Champoux
 

Barbara Champoux, Esq. is CEO/Principal of Champoux Law Group PLLC. 


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