Infrastructure disasters are complex scenarios. They can be difficult to respond to, prepare for, and mitigate, as the infrastructure itself is often a mechanism in responding to, preparing for, and mitigating hazards. Further, infrastructure is often owned by a variety of public and private interests, and in some cases both, making the delegation of responsibilities and assessment of county liability difficult.
What is considered “critical infrastructure?”
As defined by USA Patriot Act of 2001 (42 U.S.C. 5195c(e)), critical infrastructure includes any “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.” There are four designated lifeline functions – transportation, water, energy, and communications.
This can include but is not limited to:
- Telephone, cellular, and data communications mediums
- Electric Delivery
- Energy Supply
- Waste water treatment facilities
- Municipal water reservoirs
- Community support facilities
Energy Failure is the extended interruption in the supply of electric, petroleum, or natural gas. Any disruption of any one or a combination thereof could create a myriad of physical/fiscal problems. International events possess the potential to drastically affect supplies of energy, primarily petroleum, where local conditions tend to affect the distribution of the energy triad; electricity, petroleum, or natural gas. In some instances, local conditions may contribute to, or exacerbate an energy shortage situation.
A communications failure is the widespread breakdown or disruption of normal communication capabilities. Major telephone and cellular phone outages, loss of local government radio facilities, long term interruption of electronic broadcast service, emergency 911, law enforcement, fire, emergency services, public works, and emergency warning systems represent but a few of the total communications capabilities vital to the continues safety and welfare of the populace.
There are three main infrastructure incidents that you can prepare for in advance:
- Roadway incidents
- Power and utility outages
According to the National Safety Council, one in eight drivers will be involved in a car crash this year. Roadway incidents can be caused by a number of influences, including mechanical problems, weather, medical emergencies, inattentiveness, and other drivers.
Power and Utility Outages
A utility outage is a situation where commodities such as electricity, water or gas service are interrupted. Extended power outages may impact the whole community and the economy. A power outage is when the electrical power goes out unexpectedly.
A power outage may:
- Disrupt communications, water and transportation.
- Close retail businesses, grocery stores, gas stations, ATMs, banks and other services.
- Cause food spoilage and water contamination.
- Prevent use of medical devices.
Cyberattacks can occur in many ways, including:
- Accessing your personal computers, phones, gaming systems, and other Internet and Bluetooth connected devices.
- Damaging your financial security, including identity theft.
- Blocking your access or delegating your personal information and accounts.
- Targeting children and young adults, or the elderly.
- Complicating your employment, business services, transportation and power grid.
Prepare in advance for incidents on the road by:
- Maintaining the following on your car:
- Antifreeze levels
- Battery and ignition system
- Exhaust system
- Fuel and air filters
- Heater and defroster
- Lights and flashing hazard lights
- Windshield wiper equipment and washer fluid level
- Keeping an emergency supply kit in your car with these additions:
- Jumper cables
- Flares or reflective triangles
- First aid kit
- Ice scraper
- Car cell phone charger
- Blanket and gloves for inclement weather
- Cat litter or sand for better tire traction
- Keeping your updated auto insurance and registration in a safe, easily accessible place.
In general, you should take the following protective actions to prepare for a power outage:
- Take an inventory now of the items you need that rely on electricity.
- Plan for batteries and other alternatives to meet your needs when the power goes out, especially for a battery-powered radio and flashlight.
- Plan for surge protection. Make sure that you have current surge protectors for household electronics.
- Review the supplies that are available in case of no power. Have flashlights with extra batteries for every household member, and a battery-powered portable radio. Have enough nonperishable food and water, a manual can opener, and blankets.
- Talk to your medical provider about a power outage plan for medical devices powered by electricity and refrigerated medicines. Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and get specific guidance for any medications that are critical for life.
- Plan for heating or cooling your home. Use methods such as sealing around windows to insulate your home. If the weather is very hot or very cold, plan to go to a location with air conditioning or with heat. Never use a generator, charcoal, outdoor stoves or heaters indoors. If the air conditioner is not functioning, (during summer months) stay cool by keeping out of direct sunlight and moving to the lowest floor of the building.
- Stock food and water and supplies wisely. Store two weeks’ worth of non-perishable food and water supplies. Plan to use coolers and ice to extend food refrigeration and keep a thermometer in the fridge, freezer or cooler to monitor the food temperature. Use refrigerated foods first, frozen foods second and non-perishable foods last.
- Use a thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer so that you can know the temperature when the power is restored. Remember that perishable items from the refrigerator can be kept cool for about 4 hours if the refrigerator is left closed.
- Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backup in central locations on every level of your home. Install smoke alarms with battery backup on every floor, inside and outside sleeping areas. Test monthly. Make sure that you have one carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home.
- Learn how to safely and properly switch on/off gas valves, water lines, circuit breakers, once utilities have been restored. For power outages or downed wires, call your utility company.
- Create a support network. Identify people who can help you stay at home or evacuate during an extended power outage. Keep a paper copy of your contact list.
- Sign up for local alerts and warning systems. Monitor weather reports. Use local alert systems and apps for text alerts. Have communication devices that work without home power, including a crank or battery radio, a non-cordless home phone, chargers/batteries for your cell phones and your computers.
- Prepare a pet emergency kit for your companion animals.
- Plan how to decide to stay or go. Plan how and when you will evacuate safely to maintain needs such as power-dependent medical devices. Keep your car gas tank at least half full.
There are several ways to protect yourself from cyberattacks:
- Limit the personal information you share online. Change privacy settings and do not use location features.
- Keep software applications and operating systems up-to-date.
- Using a password manager, use upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters, as well as, two-factor authentication (two methods of verification).
- Think before you click, and when in doubt, do NOT click. Do not provide personal information. Watch for suspicious activity that asks you to do something right away, offers something that sounds too good to be true, or needs your personal information.
- Use encrypted (secure) Internet communications.
- Protect your home and/or business on a strong, using a secure Internet connection and Wi-Fi network.
- Use a stronger authentication such as a personal identification number (PIN) or password that only you would know. Consider using a separate device that can receive a code or uses a biometric scan (e.g. fingerprint scanner or facial recognition).
- Check your account statements and credit reports regularly.
- Only share personal information on secure sites (e.g. “https://”). Do not use sites with invalid certificates. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that creates a more secure connection.
- Use antivirus solutions, malware and firewalls to block threats.
- Regularly back up your files in an encrypted file or encrypted file storage device.
- Protect your home network by changing the administrative and Wi-Fi passwords regularly. When configuring your router, use either the instruction manual or speak to your internet-cable provider, to setup the Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) setting, which is the strongest encryption option.
During a roadway incident:
- Stay calm.
- Follow directions from law enforcement, signs, and watch for traffic cones.
- If you're on a state road, call *THP (*847) to be connected to the closest Tennessee Highway Patrol office if you need the assistance of a Trooper. Call 911 if there is an emergency.
- If you are in a crash and there are no serious injuries, move your vehicle off the road, as far away from traffic as possible. Turn on your emergency flashers.
- Exchange information with other parties in the accident. It is best that you save discussions about the crash for the law enforcement officers on the scene.
- Move over for others. It’s the law in Tennessee to move over for emergency vehicles.
During a power outage:
- Monitor alerts. Check local weather reports and any notifications. by phone, television or radio. Utility officials may come to your door to alert you of a planned power outage. If available, sign up for local alerts and warning systems to notify you through a call or text to your phone.
- Contact your support network. Let people in your network know that you are okay, and see if anyone needs help. Check on your neighbors, older adults and young children are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures.
- Use food supplies that do not require refrigeration.
- Keep food cold and when in doubt, throw it out. Eat your fresh, perishable foods first. Avoid opening your refrigerator and freezer to preserve cool temperatures. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours. A full, unopened freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full). Use coolers with ice if necessary. Measure the food temperature in your refrigerator and freezer with a thermometer. Throw out food that has been warmer than 40 degrees F.
- Disconnect appliances and electronics to avoid damage from electrical surges. Use flashlights, not candles. Turn off the utilities only if you suspect damage or if local officials instruct you to do so. Your gas line can only be turned on by a qualified professional. If any circuit breakers have been tripped, contact an electrician to inspect them before turning them on.
- Enact alternate plans for refrigerating medicines or using power-dependent medical devices.
- Check with local officials about heating and cooling locations near you.
- Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Don’t use a gas stove to heat your home and do not use outdoor stoves indoors for heating or cooking. If using a generator, only use it outside and away from windows.
- Decide if you need to stay or go. Evacuate if your home is too hot or too cold, or if you have medical devices that need power. Communities often provide warming or cooling centers and power charging stations.
During a cyberattack:
- Check your credit statement for unrecognizable charges.
- Check your credit reports to be aware of open accounts and/or loans you did not open.
- Be alert for soliciting emails and social media users asking for private information.
- If you notice strange activity, (e.g. inappropriate pop-up windows), limit the damage by immediately changing all of your internet account passwords.
- Consider turning off the device. Take it to a professional to scan for potential viruses and fix. If you take your device to a store or local business, contact them in advance.
- Let work, school or other system owners know.
- Contact banks, credit card companies and other financial services companies where you hold accounts. You may need to place holds on accounts that have been attacked. Close any unauthorized credit or charge accounts. Report that someone may be using your identity.
- Check to make sure the software on all of your systems is up-to-date.
- Run a security scan on your computer/device to make sure your system is not infected or running more slowly or inefficiently.
- If you find a problem, disconnect your device from the Internet and seek assistance from a reputable repair company.
Using alert systems is crucial to being informed before and during infrastructure incidents, just as with any other disaster. Our alert systems page has resources for a number of alert options.
Local Infrastructure Incident Risks
Overall, Williamson County is at a high risk of being affected by infrastructure incidents, which occur frequently. There is a smaller chance, or "medium" risk, of being affected by an energy or communications failure.