Thursday, January 26, 2012

What if? ... Are you ready for 2012?

I'm thinking the Mayans and others (St. Malachy, Nostradamus, etc...) may have been onto something ... 2012 indeed looks very ominous ... just kidding

One thing that's a fact, is that disasters are coming more frequently than before and are proving to be more costly, if not in lives lost, certainly in their economic impact. I think it's fair to say that most First World countries are prepared to deal with a major disaster ... No one has perfect plans but we'd cope with a strong earthquake (still the biggest killer), industrial accident or severe weather outbreaks.

We have all heard the old adage about one ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure. Well, it's still true. However, in times of tight fiscal conditions, preparedness often seems to be among the first budget cut targets. This certainly seems shortsighted when more and more of the so-called "low probability" events actually happen.

And, it seems, the risks are pretty well known. The luminaries currently meeting in Davos, Switzerland, have a pretty good handle on identifying the risks. Will action follow?

I've mentioned above that we're moderately ready to respond to a major disaster. But what about multiple disasters? Or, one that cripples our critical infrastructure?

This brings me to my own "worst case scenario" ... a general failure of the network of networks that all of us take for granted and allows for the light to come on when we flip a switch, for our water to pour out when we go to the tap, and, our Internet to be available when we turn our our laptops.

But what if? ... Cyber threats are terrifying in their potential calamity.2012 is already forecast to be a "breakout year" for cyber attacks and threats. We have seen reports in the last few months, of actual attacks or perceived security gaps in critical infrastructure:

That's just the top of the iceberg. Whether state-sponsored or terror-related, cyber threats are real. We know major countries are preparing their cyber arsenals (the United States, China, among others). The cyber warriors even admit their own systems are at risk.

By some accounts, the cyber security business is going to reach 66 billion $ this year and continue to increase by 10 per cent every year as industries try to bolster their defenses. Is it enough? 

Time will answer that question. But I believe that emergency managers should plan for the worse and get ready to deal with a cascade of failures of the very systems we normally rely on to organize our response to disasters. We know it's happened before (Latvia, Georgia, Iran ...). We know there are direct threats to the links that make all the networks work together.

So, how do we answer the call without power, satellite communications, disrupted transportation system, gas and oil pipelines where nothing will flow? ... Not a pretty picture ... Perhaps a bit alarmist ...outlandish? I think not ...

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