Are we overly dependent on Electricity — especially during Disasters?

Barton Dunant
6 min readJul 1, 2021

The world at large — including the world of Emergency Management (EM) — is heavily reliant on electricity and technology. EM’s use of Communications and Information Technology (IT) systems are also heavily reliant on electricity. Access to a continuous source of electricity (Sustainable Electrical Grid, Sufficient backup power, etc.) has become the keystone Essential Element of Information. Without electricity, fairly quickly all other infrastructures will fail. Each infrastructure element has dependencies on the other — and this is important to Emergency Management in that Mission Essential Functions are linked to infrastructure elements. Deltares, a water/environmental and infrastructure consultant from the Netherlands produced this interdependency graphic, which is part of a report they made on Hurricane Harvey:

Figure 1 — (Sebastian, A., et al., 2017. p. 56)

There is no infrastructure sector that is not connected somehow to the use of electricity and technology. EM in the United States must support all of these during Response and Recovery, through the national and state’s/territorial/tribal entity’s Mission Essential Functions. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has Energy (Power Grid, Fuel) as one of its seven Community Lifelines, which are monitored as key situational awareness metrics for maintenance and restoration during a Response (Communications is another Community Lifeline) (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2020). FEMA recognized that these Community Lifelines are crucial for situational awareness and assistance actions by the Federal Government in support of states and local jurisdictions for Response and Recovery. Tools that EM uses — Communications Equipment, Resource Request Software, Geospatial Information Systems, etc. — all rely on electricity.

The Cascading Impact of a Disruption and its Impact on Response

As previously noted, when electricity fails, other systems quickly fail as well. And that can start to cascade with the electrical grid itself. Kinney et al. estimate that the loss of a single sub-station can result in a triggering of a cascade in the network, causing an overall loss of 25% of transmission efficiency (Kenney et al., 2005). The February 2021 winter storm in Texas demonstrated both the cascading…

Barton Dunant

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