Threats to infrastructures: consolidation, collaboration and future orientation

Lead Research Organisation: University of East London
Department Name: Cass School of Education & Communities


The 'National Infrastructure' is seldom out of the news. Although the infrastructure is not always easy to define it includes things such as utilities (water, energy, gas), transportation systems and communications. We often hear about real or perceived threats to the infrastructure such as terrorism, natural disasters, cyber attacks and even riots and industrial disputes. There is little consensus about how we should protect the national infrastructure now, and even less about how we should go about it in the future. Moreover, all countries face such challenges and meet them in different ways. The purpose of this project is to consider the ways in which we think about protecting the national infrastructure and to examine the differences in how countries go about protecting their infrastructures. This will help us to understand how working across academia, across sectors and across countries can help us to act in terms of future scenarios.

In terms of understanding how different countries respond to threats to their national infrastructures (and how their populations might respond) the media often make generalisations about nations and their infrastructures. In terms of the recent Japanese Tsunami (2011), for example, the media made many references to the robustness of Japan's industrial base and the resilience of the Japanese people. In Hurricane Katrina in the US (2005) the media was concerned with inequalities in US society and the lack of integration between different government agencies in dealing with the disruption. These media and popular representations point, in a simple way, to national differences in response, but there is a need to go further and examine how and why different countries respond in different ways. In this research we will look at national economic and social factors and, alongside interviews with policy makers, we will construct 'timelines' of infrastructure protection policy to see exactly how and why policy changes in countries over time. We will select a range of countries to represent different political and social forms (US, UK, New Zealand, Japan and Germany). The analysis of these timelines will suggest why national infrastructure policy changes over time. We will then test our results using case studies of actual disasters and expert groups of policy makers across countries. Ultimately this will help us to understand national infrastructure protection changes over time, what drives such changes and the different ways in which countries prepare themselves for infrastructure threats.

It is also important that we think about how we organise research in this area in the future. Through a series of 'leadership activities' the research will bring together researchers in different academic disciplines and people from the public, private and third sectors. This is not the first time that this has been done, but the purpose of doing this is to discover how work across disciplines and sectors can be best organised in future. In order to keep groups working with each other, and to find out more about how inter-disciplinary groups can work well, the groups formed in these activities will participate in simulation and gaming exercises on threats to national infrastructures. Finally, it is important to think about future threats to the infrastructure and we will organise innovative activities that involve graphically describing future threats and how we might respond to them.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of this research will be both national and international. Nationally there are a number of governmental bodies interested in research on 'threats to national infrastructure' including the Cabinet Office, the Home Office, Civil Contingencies Secretariat and CPNI (Centre for Protection of the National Infrastructure). There are also regional authorities which might be interested and I have previously worked with the Emergency Planning Department of Essex County Council, Essex Fire and Rescue, London Resilience and Birmingham Resilience. Internationally, groups such as the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) will be beneficiaries as will third sector organisations such as the Institute of Race Relations (who have taken an interest in my work on security and equality).
Within the wider public the leadership activities which I have considered are beneficial in terms of increasing public awareness of this issue as they are engaging and show how inter-disciplinary working is necessary to meet future threats to the national infrastructure.
There are three particular benefits arising from this research.
Firstly, in terms of improving national security the research identifies those factors which are most relevant to dealing with threats to national infrastructures in context. For example, the research considers how protection of the national infrastructure is influenced by welfare systems, economic factors and equalities. This is important in terms of identifying factors that are significant in infrastructure protection particularly in times of economic recession and social change. Through the use of case studies and policy interviews this research will be important in considering how threats to the national infrastructure can be considered with reference to the national, social and economic context. These factors will be disseminated not only through academic publications but also through reports and the project website. The impact of this is likely to be significantly enhanced through the integrated leadership activities which have been planned.
Secondly, in terms of shaping and enhancing the effectiveness of the public sector the research considers the extent to which policy borrowing and international sharing of practice may be of benefit in protecting the national infrastructure. Those working in the public sector in this area will be the subjects of this research as well as generating new knowledge.
Thirdly, this research will develop important skills for the researchers involved in terms of inter-disciplinary and cross-sectoral working which are vital for the future of research in this area.


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Chadderton C (2015) Civil defence pedagogies and narratives of democracy: disaster education in Germany in International Journal of Lifelong Education

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Edmonds C (2016) Designing Emergency Preparedness Resources for Children with Autism in International Journal of Disability, Development and Education

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Kitagawa K (2014) Continuity and change in disaster education in Japan in History of Education

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Kitagawa K (2016) Disaster preparedness, adaptive politics and lifelong learning: a case of Japan in International Journal of Lifelong Education

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Kitagawa K (2016) Situating preparedness education within public pedagogy in Pedagogy, Culture & Society

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Preston J (2016) Community response in disasters: an ecological learning framework in International Journal of Lifelong Education

Description Threats to Infrastructure: Consolidation, Collaboration and Future Orientation

In the event of a failure of the electricity supply, a water failure or a telecommunications outage we need to know how people will respond and how to manage that response. This project considered the different ways in which threats to infrastructure are managed in five countries (UK, US, Japan, Germany and New Zealand), how populations respond to those threats and how this knowledge can be used to aid response in the event of a major infrastructure failure in the UK. This report considers the findings and impacts of this project


A. Managing infrastructure threats: a globalised picture?

Through analysis of national policy documents, archival research and expert interviews it became clear that there was no 'global consensus' on how to manage infrastructure failure. Countries had very different polices in terms of how they would manage a national emergency of this kind and this had implications for the ways in which different sections of the population were treated (Preston, Chadderton and Kitagawa, 2014). In each country it was found that path dependence was key to understanding how different national governments developed their own ways of dealing with infrastructure failure and population response. Once countries had adopted a policy trajectory it becomes difficult to change.

In the United Kingdom, an analysis of the history of major catastrophic infrastructure failures showed that few lessons were learnt over time and that institutional inertia means that it is difficult for industry and government to change practices (Preston, 2014a). This also applies to population response. Even where the government considers that public information needs to be changed the resistance of other government departments, the scale of the issue and public apathy means that this is difficult to achieve (Preston, 2014b). Wider military objectives in the UK have sometimes influenced plans for dissemination of public information material in times of crisis (Preston, 2014b) and have even influenced wider public policy (Chadderton, 2014). In the United States, the use of Executive Orders and super-ordinate agencies (such as the Department of Homeland Security) to construct plans for infrastructure failure was commonplace from the early cold war. This was a different approach to the United Kingdom but it was not immune from inertia. We consider that there was no 'Golden Age' in the United States of preparing populations for catastrophe (Preston, 2015a) and that inequalities of race and class persisted in governmental plans to change school infrastructure for resilience (Preston, 2015b). In Germany infrastructure protection and education of the population for disasters has been centrally led by the German Federal Office for Civil Defence and Disaster Assistance, which was set up in response to the 9/11 attacks on the US, and extensive flooding of the River Elbe in 2002. However the federal political system meant that civil defence and infrastructure protection laws vary in each German state and change was hard to implement. Germany has a state-funded civil defence volunteer force, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, which has existed in this form since shortly after the Second World War. The force is highly trained and has an excellent reputation, but, inequalities of gender and race persist. Germany traditionally tends to avoid high-profile campaigns about disaster preparedness due to narratives of the German democratic nation as secure and peaceful, which originated at the founding of West Germany in 1949, and continue to shape contemporary political narratives (Chadderton, 2015). We therefore found that even when countries shared a common language and policy networks (US and UK) or were on the same continent with economic and political union through the EU (UK and Germany) there were significant differences in policy.

In countries which face major natural disasters that impact on infrastructure - Japan and New Zealand - there is no commonality in approach. For Japan, preparing for forthcoming disasters, including mega earthquakes and volcano eruptions, has been an urgent and necessary national agenda, particularly since the Japan Great East Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 (Kitagawa 2015b). Developing ways to 'live with' natural disasters has been promoted by policy-makers, experts and communities (Kitagawa 2015a). Under the Basic Act for National Resilience passed in 2014, cross-sectoral policies have been implemented in preventing and mitigating disasters and in developing resilience in the population. Like Japan, New Zealand faces very serious natural disasters and protection of the critical infrastructure and preparedness of the population are high on the political agenda but New Zealand adopts a very different approach. The Ministry for Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) leads on this, with their vision of 'Resilient New Zealand' and focus on the 4 'R's': Reduction, Readiness, Response, Recovery. There are CDEM organisations at three levels: local, regional and national. Very innovatively, the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act (2002) states communities should manage their own risks. Therefore, although both countries adopt a lifelong learning approach to managing infrastructure failure, Japan's approach is 'top-down' compared to New Zealand's 'bottom up' approach.

B. How individuals and communities act in infrastructure failure

Although countries have very different policies and methods of preparing for infrastructure failure, there are striking commonalities in the ways in which people and communities act. We analysed ten major disasters and catastrophes across the five countries to consider the behavioural factors which were of greatest significance (Preston, Chadderton, Kitigawa and Edmonds, 2015). We found that there were striking commonalities in behaviour. Individuals behaved rationally, engaged in mutual aid and would not break with social or societal norms unless it was necessary for immediate survival. At a community level, there was strong evidence of community learning and organisation. Individuals and communities learnt together to solve collective action problems in an infrastructure failure.

Through an analysis of community learning we have developed a new model for community learning in infrastructure failure (which can be applied to any disaster or emergency). We distinguish between three forms of community learning in an infrastructure failure:-

1, NAVIGATION: Incremental, small loops of learning, experimentation and learning from events as they arise. The current paradigm of community learning for a disaster predominates. Communities deal with events as they occur and find solutions quickly.

2. ORGANISATION: Experimentation leads to new methods of resource allocation and mutuality in an incremental fashion. This leads to new methods of community organisation.
3. REFRAMING: The disaster is reframed, either through drawing parallels with historical events or adopting new paradigms of disaster management, even questioning the ways in which disasters are managed.
We see that there is a move from navigation to organisation and reframing in infrastructure failure. Social media and new social movements mean that in disasters such as Hurricane Sandy (2012) applications such as Twitter and Facebook help with rapid community organisation. In addition, new social movements such as Occupy Sandy, an offshoot of the Occupy movement not only provide support for those who have lost access to infrastructure, but also reframe the way in which resource distribution is considered.
Exploitation Route In developing tools for infrastructure and community response to infrastructure failure
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Energy,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Transport

Description 1. By London Resilience who we have engaged with in terms of providing academic input to their 'Anytown resilience exercises with emergency responders and the Gas and Telecommunications commercial sectors. 2. By Greater Manchester Resilience Forum who are using our work on communications infrastructure resilience to support their work on emergency response. 3. By government departments (eg Cabinet Office) 4. By international NGOs (eg National Sustainable Security Initiative) 5. By Essex Fire and Rescue Service by Creating new materials for people with Autism in an infrastructure failure 6. By the Space Environment Impact Experts Group (SEIEG) 7. By Government departments in terms of ad-hoc requests for information
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Energy,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Presentation to the National Steering Committee on Warning and Informing the Public at the Cabinet Office
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in advisory committee
Impact presentation to the National Steering Committee on Warning and Informing the Public at the Cabinet Office (19th April, 2013)
Title Disaster Response Behavioural Analysis Tool (DrBAT) 
Description A tool to enable the emergency services to predict community behaviour in a disaster or other emergency. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The tool has been shared with the Cabinet Office and emergency plannners. 
Description Conference address at the NSSI meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Professor John Preston addressed the NSSI meeting, Washington on 13th November 2013

Further work with NSSI
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Conference address, organised by RUSI 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Professor John Preston addressed a conference organised by RUSI (25th October, 2013)

RUSI produced a report on City Resilience
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Seminar series for the Emergency Planning College on community response to terrorist attacks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Emergency Planning College (EPC) organised a series of seminars (roadshows) to Police, Emergency Services and Local Authorities on response to terrorism. These were held in Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool (forthcoming), I shared the results of our research in terms of community response.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017
Description Talk at the Greater Manchester Resilience Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Professor John Preston spoke at the Greater Manchester Resilience Forum on 13th December 2013 and again in 2014

Informed policy and practice
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
Description Talk on response to infrastructure failure 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Professor John Preston gave a talk to a consortium of pupils from Surrey schools on response to infrastructure failure (11th October, 2013).

The school reported that the pupils now had more interest in disaster response. A project was set up to involve the school in further project activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013