True by faith, true by reason: Averroës doctrine of the double truth, modern style

I keep being told that infrastructures are complex technologies, when they’re manifestly socio-technical and not just because the technologies have to be managed (think: risk as constructed).

We’re to believe regular operations are routine operations, but if routine means invariant, there is nothing invariant about normal infrastructure operations.

System reliability is probabilistic in the view of engineers, even though control room operators act deterministically, i.e., there’s a point at which system reliability cannot be traded off against other factors or else people would die.

I was assured that for tractability purposes, the modeling of infrastructure operations could have two stages, normal and failed. In fact the temporary disruption of systemwide services–hardly ever modeled–identifies highly relevant conditions for returning to normal operations or tipping over into failure.

Engineers also said the probability of infrastructure failure during post-disaster recovery of assets and operations was higher than the probability of failure during normal operations. Think: re-energizing line by line during a table-top Black Start exercise. Actually, nonmeasurable uncertainties–nothing like probabilities–are faced by operators post-disaster (the Black Start exercises assume no asset destruction, as improbable as that is).

And then there are all those “I-say-so” terms used without so much as a “with respect to what.” Consider the frequent “restore.” What’s it with respect to: interrupted services restored back to normal? Or services to be initially restored after major system failure? Or key equipment or facilities restored after a non-routine outage as part of normal maintenance and repair activities?

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