Infrastructure Failures

Key Points

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

  • This chapter covers large, complex infrastructure failures that are not triggered by some other hazard (e.g., an earthquake). Failures to digital and communications infrastructure is discussed in the cyber-attack and disruption chapter.

  • The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives the infrastructure of the United States an overall D+ grade and estimates it will cost $2 trillion to fix. The ASCE gives Washington a C grade, with the main concerns being roads and mass transit.

  • Infrastructure can be damaged during construction, such as a contractor breaking a water main; or fail after construction due to a design flaw, such as the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940.

  • Occasionally, our understanding of 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 its earthquake risk.

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