Infrastructure crisis is a golden opportunity

Infrastructure is the multi-billion dollar elephant in the room. At every level, the U.S. government struggles with how to repair, replace, and maintain our nation’s aging water and wastewater pipes, power lines, and roads. When compared alongside other advanced industrialized nations, our broadband infrastructure is lacking both locally and nationally. You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the Flint, Mich., water crisis–but that is just the surface.

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers released their Infrastructure Report Card for the nation, and the results were abysmal. By their estimation, the U.S. needs $3.6 trillion by 2020 to adequately address issues such as oil pipelines, hazardous waste, aging dams, and even school buildings.

Our country is staring down the barrel of a significant infrastructure crisis for two reasons: an infrastructure failure would not only inhibit daily life in the community it is meant to serve but also present a threat to national security.

When pundits and politicians speak about our degraded infrastructure, they rarely speak about it from a national security perspective. Conversely, when they speak about cybersecurity we rarely hear them talk about infrastructure. Did you know that much of our infrastructure is monitored in unmanned facilities with decades-old equipment and with human interface happening only over the internet? Did you know that an enterprising young hacker could disrupt services in communities nationwide with little more than the hacking tools easily found online?

The systems that control our infrastructure are broadly referred to as Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA). When these systems were designed, cybersecurity wasn’t a threat because the internet was not a thing. ICS and SCADA enable utility companies, factories, and other industrial companies to monitor vast swaths of equipment all over the world without having humans at each location. With the advent of the internet, these have become a significant vulnerability but many have yet to be upgraded to meet the emerging threat.

One need only look as far as Stuxnet to see why we must secure our networks and systems. Stuxnet, basically a computer virus, was the first time we saw a piece of malicious code cause physical damage to equipment. The virus prompted Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges to spin faster out of control and ultimately break–all without tripping any safety sensors. Without updating our critical infrastructure, this could easily happen here at home.

But we are Americans, and we can find opportunity in every crisis. President-elect Trump has indicated that infrastructure will be a priority for his administration. So as an infrastructure plan is drawn up for the his administration, what if we focus not just on replacing the dilapidated and deteriorating physical equipment but also updating the hardware, firmware, and software that controls it? We can add a veterans employment initiative into the package and put a nice bow on this problem that isn’t going away anytime soon.

As veterans, we know that some of our brothers in sisters in uniform struggle to find purpose or a new career after their separation from the military. The fact is that veterans have the skills and background necessary to do these jobs. Military bases are cities unto themselves and men and women in uniform are responsible for everything from service industry jobs to project management for the maintenance and repair of infrastructure. We can hit both proverbial birds with this infrastructure improvement stone.

What if our country asked them to serve again by championing this desperate need for improved infrastructure? Rebuilding the critical assets that make America possible seems like a tremendously purposeful way to spend one’s day. Veterans could return to their communities across our great nation and help rebuild their infrastructure toward continued prosperity in the 21st century and beyond.

The Trump administration is looking at a significant opportunity to provide good jobs here at home while literally rebuilding our country. Let’s hope they have what it takes to truly make infrastructure protection and veterans priorities over the next four years. Without improved critical infrastructure protection our country cannot keep up with the rest of the world.

Shawn VanDiver is a Navy veteran and Co-Director of the Truman National Security Project San Diego Chapter. Follow him on Twitter at @ShawnJVanDiver

 

This post was originally published in The Hill. Read the original article here.

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