U.S. security chief: Neglect is threat to dams, infrastructure

The U.S. has increased security to protect its levees, dams, and power grids from possible terrorist attacks, but neglect of ordinary upkeep exposes such critical infrastructure to dangerous decay, U.S. Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff said.

Chertoff said more must be done to devote energy, effort, and investment to ensure that structures can be preserved in the face of a serious natural disaster or through the ordinary degradation of the physical structure.

�We’ve seen sometimes that because of resistance to spending money on long term investments, we haven’t put enough in our levees, dams, and power grids,� Chertoff said in a Sept. 5 speech at the Brookings Institution.

�Of course, when a disaster occurs and these systems fail, then we have to turn around and pour huge amounts of money into emergency relief, response, and recovery, and rebuilding, often much more than we would have had to spend if we had a disciplined program of putting the investment in over a long period of time,� he said.

Chertoff: Expand terror risk model to address decay

Chertoff recommended building on a risk-based model that addresses terrorist threats. He said the model should be broadened to identify critical infrastructure of concern from the standpoint of natural disasters and wear and tear.

�This is not just, by the way, a federal government responsibility, it is a responsibility that the states and localities also ought to undertake,� he added.

Chertoff said evaluations are needed to determine the amount of money needed over the life of important assets to maintain and, if necessary, reinforce them against degradation that would occur in a disaster. Long-term maintenance costs also must be considered in evaluating projects that might be too expensive to maintain, he added.

The homeland security secretary also described what he called a �musical chairs� type of approach to protecting the nation’s infrastructure against natural disasters.

�Since we don’t know when the disaster is going to occur, office holders and politicians sometimes take the position that they’re hoping that the music doesn’t stop and the disaster occurs until they’re out of office,� Chertoff said.

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