Bombings in Mexico and the Need for Infrastructure Resilience

Bombings in the Michoacan state of Mexico last week knocked out nine electrical plants, causing a series of blackouts that the culprits used to torch gas stations.

The coordinated attacks also included gunshots fired at a number of other electrical plants. Around 1 million people lacked power for about 15 hours.

The level of conflict and violence in Mexico has been referred to as a narco-insurgency, meaning the influence and power of the drug cartels there at times threatens the government’s control of its country.

Most analysts seem to think that a group known as the Knights Templar carried out the attack. Although they engage in drug trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion, they also fund community projects in the areas that serve as their strongholds, which can give them a base of support in the area.

The idea of a narco-insurgency in Mexico is definitely an interesting one, but this attack got me thinking about something else.

In terrorism and security studies, we sometimes talk about “hard” targets and “soft” targets. Hard targets are things like military bases, which have significant security that would make them more difficult to attack. Soft targets can be almost any civilian target, including ones that can be essential to our infrastructure.

A million people without power can be a seriously dangerous thing. In extreme weather in particular, it can be deadly. And if power isn’t restored quickly, casualties will rise.

Which brings this post out of Mexico for the moment and back to the U.S.

Network analysis suggests that the U.S. power system is basically just a few transmission lines away from a major collapse. The whole system is dependent upon just a couple of critical nodes.

And while the U.S. continues to use ever more electricity, the grid is “aging and stretched to capacity.”

In fact, ten years ago a massive blackout in the U.S. left 50 million people without power. And smaller ones continue to plague the country as well, especially as we see more extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy.

The upshot of all this is the fact that national security is not just about surveillance, and signature strikes, and wars abroad. In a way that is real and immediate and important, it is investment in the infrastructure upon which we all depend in our daily lives. Maybe every once in a while we should focus more resources there.

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