Infrastructure Failures

Key Points

  • Infrastructure is the network of utilities that supplies our basic needs for mobility, power, water, sewer and communications.

  • Computer failure whether accidental or deliberate (e.g., cyber-attack) is a form of infrastructure failure.

  • The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the infrastructure of the United States an overall D grade and estimates it will cost $2.2 trillion to fix. The main concerns for Washington State are roads, bridges and mass transit.

  • Many problems due to poor infrastructure are individually small but quickly add up, e.g., a vast number of small leaks causing some municipal water systems to lose up to 20% of their water during transmission.

  • Infrastructure can be damaged during construction e.g., a contractor breaking a water main, or fail when new due to a design flaw, e.g., the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. Not all infrastructure failures are caused by aging systems and structures.

  • Occasionally, what is known about a threat to infrastructure becomes clear only after we build it. This has occurred with many bridges built in the early 20th century before Seattle was aware of the earthquake risk here.

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