Op-Ed: November is ‘Critical Infrastructure Month’
The month of November has been designated as “Critical Infrastructure Month” by President Joe Biden. In 2019, the American Society for Civil Engineering (ASCE) gave Puerto Rico’s infrastructure a “D” rating as it was “reaching the end of its useful life.”
The lack of maintenance and an integrated plan to execute capital investment, failed strategies and the island’s bankruptcy were some of the triggers that led us to where we are today.
Adding to that, recent disasters such as Hurricanes María and Fiona in 2017 and 2022, respectively, make a reflection on the state of our island’s infrastructure mandatory this month.
Our critical infrastructure goes beyond bridges, roads, highways, power plants and hospitals. It also includes-amongst others — our water supplies and food sources. A failure in our critical infrastructure can have a devastating effect.
Today, climate change is the most serious and latent threat facing our infrastructure. Every time the rain is more extreme and copious, which causes greater flooding. This in turn causes landslides and displacement of communities from their settlements.
Extreme rain events no longer occur only in hurricanes or storms like María and Fiona. With just a few clouds we have a recipe for chaos, just as it happened last weekend when an avalanche of rocks fell on one of our main highways, the Luis A. Ferre Expressway that connects the southern part of the island with the northern towns.
Our critical infrastructure needs to be rethought based on the climate reality of today and anticipating what will happen in the future. Investment in works that are of permanent nature and at the same time flexible must consider elements such as demographics, precipitation, temperature and safety margins.
The integration of data (historical and recent), technology and artificial intelligence are essential to avoid disasters. New maintenance schedules, the integration of more resistant and/or durable materials, higher bridges, and the integration of green infrastructure, as well as a greater number of parks and forests in areas of high rainfall, among others, are necessary as well as a public policy that manages responses to disasters with ease and haste, such as the repair of roads and bridges.
Central to a critical infrastructure planning process is the effective engagement and participation of affected and potentially displaced communities, interest groups, and academia. Secure infrastructure is critical to social functioning. It affects all aspects of our individual and collective lives.
It is time for all Puerto Ricans to be aware of how important it is and to insert ourselves into the planning, discussion, and compliance processes of our critical infrastructure if we want an adaptable and resilient future.