Home Mitigation The Dangers of Hidden Infrastructure

The Dangers of Hidden Infrastructure


Gas, gas, gas.

As of this writing--and in truth, it doesn't matter if this was written last month or next month--thousands of tons of methane gas are spewing into a Los Angeles California suburb's atmosphere each week. To review, methane gas is a hydrocarbon that occurs naturally on earth. It is considered cleaner-burning than gasoline, diesel, or coal. It is also a very effective greenhouse gas, providing approximately 25 - 70 times more global warming impact than carbon dioxide.

The leak occurred in Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Field in the mountains near the community of Porter Ranch. Owned and operated by Southern California Natural Gas, the facility extends--invisibly--thousands of feet below the ground.

This leak is comparable to the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, which ultimately cost billions to seal and clean up, damaged the environment of the Gulf immeasurably, and impacted the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Gulf residents. This leak, however, being in a populated area, has the potential to be far worse.

Already, more than 1,600 families have evacuated. People have been hospitalized, and at least one lawsuit has been filed, with countless more likely to follow. Before the leak is capped, there will likely be more mass evacuations, possibly fires, and possibly deaths. Media coverage, for now, has been relatively light, but once there's a fire or a death, that will likely change quickly.

Lessons for the EDM community.

This is a cautionary tale of the highest magnitude. This type of scenario, thankfully, doesn't come along every day, but when one does, we MUST learn what there is to be learned from it and apply those lessons. Here are a few:

  1. Does your community have hidden infrastructure that's difficult or impossible to access? If so, what's the worst that could happen? No, really--what's the WORST that could happen?
  2. Have you planned for the WORST, and dedicated adequate resources to preparation and mitigation?
  3. Do your building codes allow for the WORST to continue to be built? If so, why?
  4. Do your municipal regulations require that the potential WORST be accommodated and fixed? If not, why not?

There is a component of our field that is responsible for the day-to-day: fire, EMT, policing, etc. These folks necessarily are focused on what's right in front of them, and don't have a lot of attention or time to think about the hidden dangers beneath our feet. So someone needs to. Is that person or team identified? Do they have strategic risk identification skills? Do they have a voice in the planning and budgeting process?

It would be wise to be able to answer 'yes' to all those. Otherwise, hang onto your hat, because your own well may be about to blow. Fair warning.

Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.