Our Fragile Infrastructure

This recent post of Joe’s reminded me.  I don’t remember whether I posted about this before, but a couple years ago during a state highway upgrade outside of Moscow, Idaho, a fiber optic line was cut.  One little line.  Typically, we think of having a cell phone, a computer with internet access, a land line, and a radio as being diversified with regard to our communications.  Well, not necessarily.

When my cell phone was unable to reach anyone outside the Moscow area I tried the land line.  No go.  Then I tried to get on line and check e-mail.  Nope.  Then I turned on the radio.  More than one station dead.  It turned out that more than one cellular service, our local internet access, much of the land line traffic, and even some radio station feeds were using the same FO line.  I don’t know if that’s changed.

I view large scale electrical generation plants in the same light.  Your local food supply may depend on one or two highways and one rail line, and the stores have been relying on the “just in time” inventory method more and more.  A similar situation may exist in your local hospital.  I don’t know.  It costs money to keep extra rooms, beds, personnel and supplies available, much beyond the normal demand.

We tend to take a lot for granted.


4 thoughts on “Our Fragile Infrastructure

  1. Efficiency is the enemy of reliability.

    Redundancy is required for reliability.

    It may be a good idea to ask about your cel phone provider’s plans for emergency preparedness, and operations during power outages or civil defense emergencies.

  2. I’ve kept the traditional analog land-line from the regional spawn of the old telephone monopoly for just this reason, because of all that I’d read in IEEE Spectrum about the redundancy and rerouting capacity that was initially built into the system. I figured that the dregs of that cold-war redundancy would perpetuate itself into large swathes of the current systems for some time into the future.
    I wonder how true this is anymore.

  3. Oh, God, how I miss my old 1982 Mazda B2000 truck. It had a carburetor, and exactly one IC in it, an op amp for the windshield wiper delay. It had a magnetic-reluctance distributor, instead of points. This was an actual improvement, unlike most of the unfixable-when-they-inevitably-break candy “features” in recently-built vehicles. I was quite confident that I could fix any problem on my old truck, given the tools, and did so, several times.


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