A major rethinking of the operations of critical infrastructures: focus on the interconnections instead


The signal problem with current concepts and methods for critical infrastructure operations is that, while most everyone acknowledges infrastructures are interconnected, descriptions of their interconnected operations continue to assume that the stages of operation–normal, disrupted, failed, recovered–by a single infrastructure serve as the best template for describing and differentiating those operations. 

As a heuristic, this might cause little practical harm, but usage is very misleading under other conditions.

There is no shared benchmark for “normal operations” for critical infrastructures, and certainly the sense that one set of “normal operations” is the apogee to which all other infrastructures aspire borders on the whiggish interpretation of history. There isn’t a “life cycle” of a critical infrastructure, if by that is meant one stage follows another until it, the single now-mature infrastructure, is superseded by something newer and fresh.


Infrastructure operations are better thought of as punctuated by different shifts and configurations in interconnectivity, control variables, improvisational behavior, and standards to which management and operations aspire. How the specific combinatorics play out is an empirical question. What can be said is this: The risks and uncertainties differ significantly across these punctuated operations. This is not as banal as it seems.

It isn’t just that estimated probabilities, consequences and associated hazards can give way to nonmeasurable uncertainties and disproportionate impacts with having at times to operate blind. It’s that the modes of operation change and with them the nature of unpredictabilities. What was operating within official bandwidths can shift entirely to improvisational behavior best understood as working with what is then and there.

It isn’t just that standards of what is and is not reliable service provision are changing. It’s also that other standards necessarily come into play or are modified because the interconnections, shifts and variables change. It isn’t just that one interconnectivity configuration, like sequential or serial dependency, is too often conflated with one stage of operations (e.g., “routine normal operations”). Rather the same configuration surfaces in a reconfigured mix with the other interconnections and hybrid configurations over time.

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