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Infrastructure Disruptions as Extreme Events


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Infrastructure Disruptions as Extreme Events

  1. 1. Infrastructure Disruptions as Extreme Events Stephen Graham Newcastle University IHRR Seminar
  2. 2. Infrastructure and Urbanization •  2007 50% of world’s population live in urban areas •  These 3.3 billion people concentrated on 2.4% of earth’s surface •  Rely on spectrum of mobilities and connections •  Once infrastructure networks are successfully built, "unconnected localities" can be linked through what Latour calls "provisionally commensurable connections" (Latour, 1997; 2). •  In such a context, ‘Acts of God’ or “environmental Hazards' mediated profoundly by complexes of urban infrastructure
  3. 3. Technosocial and Technonatural Assemblages •  Organise, and mediate, the distribution of people, goods, services, information, wastes, capital, and energy between multiple scales within and between urban regions. •  The contemporary urban process involves complex ‘cyborg’ liaisons and multiple, distanciated connections. •  Straddle many scales and link more or less distant elsewheres. •  Crucial to “Anthropocene”
  4. 4. Cyborg Urbanization •  Blending of social into technical (and vice versa) ; technological into natural/organic ; and social into natural/organic •  Complexes of ‘infrastructure’ involve all three processes of blurring: socio-technical (cyborg bodies); socio-natural (urban water systems; resource commodity chains); techno-natural (urban metabolism & ecology) •  "The city", writes Erik Swyngedouw, "cannot survive without capturing, transforming and transporting nature's water. The 'metabolism of the city' depends of the incessant flow of water through its veins" (1995, 390).
  5. 5. •  “The modern home, for example, has become a complex exoskeleton for the human body with its provision of water, warmth, light and other essential needs. The home can be conceived as ‘prosthesis and prophylactic’ in which modernist distinctions between nature and culture, and between the organic and the inorganic, become blurred” Gandy 2004
  6. 6. Bill Joy: When Turning Off Becomes Suicide •  Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, recently caused a furore amongst, suggested that the mediation of human societies by astonishingly complex computerised infrastructure systems will soon reach the stage when "people won't be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide" (2000, 239).
  7. 7. How are Technosocial complexes ‘black boxed’ as the ‘engineer’s stuff’ of ‘infrastructure •  For Susan Leigh-Star (1999) nine characteristics. •  embedded (i.e. “sunk into other structures); •  transparent (“it does not need to be reinvented each time or assembled for each task”); •  offers temporal or spatial reach or scope; •  is learned by its users; •  is linked to conventions of practice (e.g. routines of electricity use); •  embodies standards; •  is built on an installed base of sunk capital; •  is fixed in modular increments, not built all at once or globally;
  8. 8. And yet, paradoxically, often only noticed when they fail •  Finally, infrastructure “tends to become visible upon breakdown.” •  When infrastructure networks "work best, they are noticed least of all" (David Perry, 1995). •  Modern urbanism associated with progressive veiling of infrastructure, physically and discursively, beneath the urban scene, as part of emergence of “Wired-Piped-Tracked” Metropolis •  Kaika and Swyngedouw (2000) "the networks became buried underground, invisible, banalised, and relegated to an apparently marginal, subterranean urban world".
  9. 9. The ‘Fronstaging’ of the Urban ‘Backstage’ •  Irving Goffman’s (1959) terms, the built environment’s “backstage’ becomes momentarily “frontstaged” •  The sudden absence of infrastructural flow creates visibility just as the continued, normalised use of infrastructures creates a deep taken-for-grantedness and invisibility.
  10. 10. ‘Unblackboxing’ •  Technosocial ‘blackboxes” are momentarily undone •  Cultures of normalised and taken-forgranted infrastructure use sustain widespread assumptions that urban ‘infrastructure’ is somehow a material and utterly fixed assemblage of hard technologies embedded stably in place which is characterised by perfect order, completeness, immanence and internal homogeneity rather than leaky, partial and heterogeneous entities.
  11. 11. Myth of Fixed and Stable Emplacement •  Infrastructures regarded as "symbols of the complexity, ubiquity and the embodied power of modern technology" (Summerton 1994). •  “we sometimes seem to view mature Large Technical Systems as invulnerable, embodying more and more power over time and developing along a path whose basic direction is as foreseeable as it is impossible to detour [But] systems are more vulnerable, less stable and less predictable in their various phases than most of us tend to think (Summerton, 1994)
  12. 12. •  Cultures and economies of infrastructural repair and improvisation almost invisible within urban studies
  13. 13. Socio-technical ‘Normal Accidents’: Blackout •  “cascading effects” •  “We are all hostages to electricity” Leslie (1999)
  14. 14. The Electromateriality of ‘cyberspace’ •  “When servers are down, panic sets in. Electronic power failures, internal surges, the glitches that corrupt and destroy memory, mirror our relation with power itself” (Grossman, 2003, 23). •  a single server farm consumes as much electrical power as a city the size of Honolulu.
  15. 15. Blackouts and the ‘Global’ City •  “We are talking about Mumbai as the next Shanghai”, a general manager for a major Mumbai advertising firm, faced with losing 30% of its revenues due to daily 4 hour power cuts, reported in 2005. “And here we are faced with the possibilities of blackouts” (SAND, 2005).
  16. 16. Blackouts and Neoliberal Dogma •  Electricity deregulation in the USA had actually ignored the economic and geographical fundamentals of an industry that necessitates reliable, material connectivities between generation and use; that is prone to cascading and spiralling failure as transcontinental and transnational markets in supply are established within “complex interactive networks,” with dramatic unintended consequences ; and where the hard infrastructures are ageing and organised with a baroque level of complexity and local fragmentation.
  17. 17. ICTs and Cascading Effects •  On July 19, 2001, a train shipping hydrochloric acid, computer paper, wood-pulp bales and other items from North Carolina to New Jersey derails in a tunnel under downtown Baltimore. Later estimated to have reached 1,500 degrees, the ensuing fire is hot enough to make the boxcars glow. A toxic cloud forces the evacuation of several city blocks. By its second day, the blaze melts a pipe containing fiber-optic lines laid along the railroad right-of-way, disrupting telecommunications traffic on a critical New York-Miami axis. Cell phones in suburban Maryland fail. The New York–based Hearst Corporation loses its email and the ability to update its web pages. Worldcom, PSINet, and Abovenet report problems. Slowdowns are seen as far away as Atlanta, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and the American embassy in Lusaka, Zambia loses all contact with Washington. •  Kazys Varnelis
  18. 18. Political Ecological Disruptions: Katrina •  Urban political ecologies rendered starkly visible •  Metabolized nature disturbed; politically constructed vulnerabilities exposed
  19. 19. Malign Mobilities: SARS
  20. 20. Malign Immobilities: Sewer Fat
  21. 21. Supply Disruptions: Oil Shock
  22. 22. Forced Disconnection: Infrastructural Warfare • "There is nothing in the world today that cannot become a weapon" (Liang and Xiangsui, 1999) •  "If you want to destroy someone nowadays, you go after their infrastructure. " (Phil Agre, 2001)
  23. 23. “Global Guerillas” and Infrastructural insurgencies “Global economic networks, like today's oil networks, are typically sparse (few nodes), hierarchical (an inverted pyramid of distribution), concentrated (big hubs), and vulnerable (not built with security in mind). Complex infrastructure often exhibits extreme levels of vulnerability to non-planned events. The reason for this is may be found in an area of complexity research called highly optimized tolerance (HOT). HOT research has found that complex networks, like most global infrastructure, exhibit behaviors explained by the design considerations of its makers. The end-result of this planning is a network that is extremely robust against certain types of anticipated failures/insults but conversely is hypersensitive to unanticipated classes of uncertainty”. John Robb
  24. 24. Water…
  25. 25. Streets…
  26. 26. •  "the next Pearl Harbor will be both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It's targets will not be the U.S. military or defense system but, instead, the U.S. public and its postindustrial and highly informatized lifestyle. What is now a tool for comfort, an object of leisure, or a necessary support for work [..] will soon become the world's deadliest weapon” (Debrix, 2001).
  27. 27. State-Backed Infrastructural War •  John Warden’s “Enemy as a System”. Basis for US doctrine : “Strategic Ring Theory” •  Legitimises civilian infrastructures as ‘dual-use targets’ •  Ritzer "by declaring dual-use targets legitimate military objectives, the Air Force can directly target civilian morale".
  28. 28. •  Edward Felker’s (1998) embellishment of Warden •  Infrastructure, rather than a separate 'ring' of the 'enemy as a system', in fact pervades, and connects, all the others to actually "constitute the society as a whole" •  "If infrastructure links the subsystems of a society," he wrote, "might it be the most important target ?" (1998).
  29. 29. First Order Effects Second Order Effects Third Order Effects No light after dark or in building interiors Erosion of command and control capabilities Greater logistics complexity No refrigeration Increased requirement for power generating equipment Decreased mobility Some stoves/ovens non operable Increased requirement for night vision devices Decreased Situational Awareness Inoperable hospital electronic equipment Increased reliance on battery-powered items for news, broadcasts, etc. Rising disease rates No electronic access to bank accounts/money Shortage of clean water for drinking, cleaning and preparing food Rising rates of malnutrition Disruption in some transportation and communications services Hygiene problems Increased numbers of non-combatants requiring assistance Disruption to water supply, treatment facilities, and sanitation Inability to prepare and process some foods Difficulty in communicating with non-combatants
  30. 30. ‘Bomb Now, Die Later’ : The ‘War onGlosson 1991 : ”I want to put every--[Iraqi] household in an 1991-2003 •  General Buster Public Health’ in Iraq autonomous mode and make them feel they were isolated… We wanted to play with their psyche"
  31. 31. Towards State Computer Network Attack (CNA)