Managing Current Complexity: Critical Energy Infrastructure Failures in North America
Oldreive, Melissa E
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This paper applies the competing theories of High Reliability Organizations (HRO) and Normal Accidents Theory (NAT), two competing views of risk management in highly-complex and tightly-coupled systems, in analyzing the 1998 Ice Storm and the 2003 Blackout to examine vulnerabilities in North America’s critical energy infrastructure (CEI). Inferences are then made by highlighting the similarities and differences in the two cases, which are then used to draw lessons for public managers regarding the protection of CEIs. As CEIs are highly-complex and tightly-coupled systems, failures stemming from complex and uncertain risks are inevitable. There is an increasingly low tolerance for failure in energy infrastructure because society’s critical infrastructures have become increasingly interdependent. Public managers must regulate CEIs in order to ensure an emphasis is placed on safety and security while also finding ways to reduce unnecessary complexities. It is through the adoption of such measures that public managers will aid in minimizing the cascading effects of inevitable failures.