Infrastructure Resilience

30 JUL 2022
I made a submission to the Infrastructure New Zealand consultation in October last year. I should have posted here too, but will post here now. It's been edited to make it more relevant for this page but is generally the same. None of my concerns were picked up in the final Infrastructure Strategy.

The masthead image is from NASA's SOHO satellite and is a real photo filtered for detail. The CME pictured faces away from the Earth... thank goodness. But we will not be so lucky forever.

I’ve been reading the Draft New Zealand Infrastructure Strategy issued in the last day or so. - PDF

The concern I have is that there is much mention of resiliency but no section that outlines what shocks our infrastructure should be prepared for, and thus resilient against.

Without stating what potential shocks exist - any talk of resilience is pointless.
Some shocks are shown within the body of the document - eg 70% chance of Alpine Vault earthquake before 2050 - but what of less likely but more damaging impacts?

There needs to be a comprehensive Resilience Matrix that shows: -
- potential shocks
- their likelihood
- the infrastructure affected
- measures required to ameliorate impact
- potential effect upon the economy and welfare of New Zealanders
- priority to be placed upon the shock for any one project

More generally a formula should be developed so that: -
- all infrastructure has a rating for it’s criticality
- all infrastructure should then have applied a requirement to meet certain resilience targets

All projects should be required to issue a report based on this formula to show that consideration has been made. Such reports should be independently peer-reviewed.

A strategy structure like this would show that the need for resiliency has been considered - and is not mere lip service. It may well be that such considerations occur in an ad hoc manner for projects - but if so there should be clear communication of what factors are taken into account to ensure resiliency. Guidelines should be in place for how projects can develop their own matrices pertinent to that instance.

The final Infrastructure Strategy Report must communicate a clear methodology for securing resiliency for all our infrastructure.

As an example - a major unforeseen shock that I expect within my lifetime - one totally ignored but vital to consider - is the impact of an extreme Solar Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) hitting Earth’s atmosphere.

A super size CME would create a geomagnetic super storm that causes: -
- immediate widespread or even global corruption of stored data
- overloading of electrical grids
- breakdown of all telecommunications / wired and wireless
- the long term destruction of critical components of our infrastructure.

To be sure, CMEs hit earth regularly and only cause Southern Lights - like those of recent days. But in 1859 the Carrington Event was a geomagnetic super solar storm that caused widespread electrical disruption and serious damage to telegraph systems. Such an event now would be even more disruptive given how dependent we are upon our electrical grid, and data systems.

Huge CMEs are not once in a century occurrences. In 2012 a Corona Mass Ejection narrowly missed Earth


It’s not when one will happen - just when one will line up to target Earth. It is estimated that the chance is 12% within the next 10 years - and note that CMEs are more likely during high sunspot periods like Solar Cycle 25 we are entering into now. It is literally Russian Roulette with an 8 shooter you pull once a year for 100 years. I really really don't like those odds.

Even more problematic for New Zealand is that any impact of a Solar Coronal Mass Ejection would be GLOBAL. Years would pass until enough supplies of equipment could be manufactured to replace infrastructure - New Zealand would be far down the list as we don’t manufacture our own. This is the opposite of say a large earthquake in New Zealand where we could seek assistance from allies offshore.

So, even if this is um... an unlikely event - the overwhelmingly severe consequences should mean we must prepare for a geomagnetic super storm and expect it imminently in just the same manner we are preparing, I hope, for the rupture of the Alpine Fault.... (hey let's play Russian Roulette with two 8 shooters)

Such Black Swan events - there are others (Auckland's Volcano Field / Taupo Eruption / Polar Vortex Freeze / Severe Super Cyclone / Meteor Airburst / Nuclear Accident / Subsea Methane Eruption / Massive DDOS attack / Smurf invasion... pick your disaster) - need to be considered in any infrastructure plan.

This lack of a clear strategy for delineating resiliency is a huge failure in the current Draft Infrastructure Strategy.
By Hab3