responsible stewardship of the nation's aging Infrastructure
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Last Modified 21 August 2010
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Responsible Infrastructure Stewardship
Our nation and its people depend on buildings, structures, pavements, utilities, railways, piers, and other infrastructure assets to do business and accomplish missions. Over time, infrastructure assets deteriorate thru use and natural processes. As infrastructure deteriorates, it needs repair or replacement in order to continue functioning safely. But, when resources are scarce, decision makers tend to favor other needs over infrastructure repair needs. As a result, infrastructures continue to deteriorate, putting business services, mission, and people at risk.

This common human tendency to defer infrastructure repair always worsens in hard economic times. Decision makers' most common reaction to economic stress is transferring funds from capital use to operations and “social” programs, and using any remaining capital funds for visible and popular purposes such as new construction rather than for repair of aging infrastructure. A related, hard times practice is dismissing maintenance personnel and cutting operating dollars needed for repair materials and contracts without the slightest idea of the business, mission and safety impacts of such reductions.

Doing business like this is not good for the human activity and safety dependant on the aging infrastructures, which are already in bad condition and on the verge of functional, if not physical, failure.

Unfortunately, most decision makers face little accountability for their raids on infrastructure repair funds because the negative consequences usually take years to surface and, even then, are often held in check by committed employees who keep things going in noteworthy ways.

Since the 1950s, infrastructure advocates have spent a lot of time trying to neutralize the damaging behavior of unstudied repair deferral by decision makers. Most attempts have tried spotlighting the ever-declining physical condition of infrastructure assets. This approach is still used today in many circles, despite the expense and non-repeatability of data collection and the fact that that the metrics have no scientific basis and behave unpredictably.

Pleading the case for using scarce funds to arrest declining infrastructure condition has never really caught on in board rooms because decision makers have not been shown a clear, credible, or present link between asset condition and business and mission goals. But, today, there is an opportunity for infrastructure advocates to do what couldn’t be done before. And it’s made possible by the growing attention in board rooms to new analytic tools such as Operational Risk Management, Multi Criteria Decision Making, and Fuzzy Logic.

These exciting methods are already in use in many other fields such as nuclear power and Homeland Security. A wealth of industry literature applies some of the methods to business disruptions due to natural disasters, terrorism, and vandalism. There are even international symposiums and organizations that promote general development and application of these new methods. But the Institute of Responsible Infrastructure Stewardship is the only non-partisan organization promoting application to protecting our society and commerce against business disruption, mission failure, and personal injury caused by normal infrastructure deterioration.