3
Space Weather and Society

The impacts of severe space weather events go beyond disruption of existing technical systems and can lead to short- and long-term, collateral socioeconomic disruptions and problems. Both public and private sector organizations need to understand how severe space weather can influence society and how it can be managed so as to mitigate negative effects. The workshop’s second session considered past events and potential impacts now and in the future, with consideration given to next-generation systems. The presentations were made by R. James Caverly of the Department of Homeland Security and Todd La Porte, Jr., of George Mason University.

The presenters were asked to respond to these questions:

  • What is your assessment of probable or reasonably possible societal impacts (economic and physical) resulting from a significant space weather event?

  • What different impacts can you envision in the future with new and expanded technologies, assuming no additional space weather protection?

  • What are the key factors in managing socioeconomic impacts of space weather events?

For each of the questions, consider both short- and long-term critical infrastructure outages caused by space weather.

SPACE WEATHER, INFRASTRUCTURE AND SOCIETY

Much of the discussion focused on various types of infrastructure—such as those for communications, electric power, water, banking and finance, and transportation—and the effects on the nation following their disruption for extended periods. Of significant note is the increasing interconnectedness and complexity of most infrastructure, together with ever expanding services dependent on infrastructure.

It was clear from the presentations and discussions in this workshop session that society faces different types of risks due to space weather events now than it did during the Carrington event in 1859. Notable for both its scientific and its technological impact, the Carrington event was probably the most important space weather event of the past 200 years. It initially attracted scientific attention because it disrupted telegraphic communication for as long as 8 hours, presented a visual panoply of nighttime lights to observers, and was widely reported in newspapers. Caverly reasoned that a contemporary Carrington event would lead to much deeper and more widespread social



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3 Space Weather and Society The impacts of severe space weather events go beyond disruption of existing technical systems and can lead to short- and long-term, collateral socioeconomic disruptions and problems. Both public and private sector orga- nizations need to understand how severe space weather can influence society and how it can be managed so as to mitigate negative effects. The workshop’s second session considered past events and potential impacts now and in the future, with consideration given to next-generation systems. The presentations were made by R. James Caverly of the Department of Homeland Security and Todd La Porte, Jr., of George Mason University. The presenters were asked to respond to these questions: • What is your assessment of probable or reasonably possible societal impacts (economic and physical) resulting from a significant space weather event? • What different impacts can you envision in the future with new and expanded technologies, assuming no additional space weather protection? • What are the key factors in managing socioeconomic impacts of space weather events? For each of the questions, consider both short- and long-term critical infrastructure outages caused by space weather. SPACE WEATHER, INFRASTRUCTURE AND SOCIETY Much of the discussion focused on various types of infrastructuresuch as those for communications, electric power, water, banking and finance, and transportationand the effects on the nation following their disruption for extended periods. Of significant note is the increasing interconnectedness and complexity of most infrastructure, together with ever expanding services dependent on infrastructure. It was clear from the presentations and discussions in this workshop session that society faces different types of risks due to space weather events now than it did during the Carrington event in 1859. Notable for both its scientific and its technological impact, the Carrington event was probably the most important space weather event of the past 200 years. It initially attracted scientific attention because it disrupted telegraphic communication for as long as 8 hours, presented a visual panoply of nighttime lights to observers, and was widely reported in newspapers. Caverly reasoned that a contemporary Carrington event would lead to much deeper and more widespread social 29

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30 SEVERE SPACE WEATHER EVENTS—UNDERSTANDING SOCIETAL AND ECONOMIC IMPACTS disruptions than those of 1859. Basic to his contention are the enormous changes to the nation’s infrastructure over the past century and a half and the virtual certainty of additional changes in the future. Today scientists have a better understanding of the technical causes and implications of space weather, and even of appropriate technical responses to it, than they did in the past. Knowledge of the social, institutional, and policy implications of space weather is growing but is still rudimentary. The disruption of the telegraph system in 1859 caused problems in communication, but because modern society is so dependent on large, complex, and interconnected technical systemsand because these systems not only are vital for the functioning of the economy but also are vulnerable to electromagnetic eventsa contemporary repetition of the Carrington event would cause significantly more extensive (and possibly catastrophic) social and economic disruptions. La Porte said that understanding the consequences resulting from interdependencies of infrastructure disrupted during significant space weather is essential. Caverly stated that although systems may be well designed themselves, there is a need to consider the “system of systems” concept and to examine the associated dependencies in detail. He added that today there is growing awareness among planners, managers, and designers of this necessity. In a parallel example, Caverly compared the effects of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to its potential effects today. To better understand this analysis, consider three terms of art: direct impact of an event on an infra- structure, dependency of one infrastructure on another, and the interdependency of an infrastructure on the one it impacts. The 1906 earthquake had enormous direct influence on virtually all the infrastructures of San Francisco. Today such an earthquake would have direct local consequences but the disruptions would also be felt across the country because of the interconnectedness of the national infrastructures (Figure 3.1). Caverly discussed how a space weather event could have an impact on delivery of electric power. For example, following a power outage, electrified transportation ceases for the duration of the outage. When there is a short- term power outage with rapid restoration, the impacts may be minimal. However, with a long-term outage (say, FIGURE 3.1 Connections and interdependencies across the economy. Schematic showing the interconnected infrastructures 3.1 Caverly.eps and their qualitative dependencies and interdependencies. SOURCE: Department of Homeland Security, National Infrastructure bitmap Protection Plan, available at http://www.dhs.gov/xprevprot/programs/editorial_0827.shtm.

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31 SPACE WEATHER AND SOCIETY several days, or perhaps, because of severe equipment damage, even considerably longer), then the loss of power after backup power supplies are exhausted could affect water, communication, banking and finance, and just about every critical infrastructure including government services. Loss of these systems for a significant period of time in even one region of the country could affect the entire nation and have international impacts. For example, financial institutions could be shut down, freight transportation stopped, and communications interrupted, as sug- gested in Figure 3.1. The concept of interdependency is evident (for example) in the unavailability of water due to long-term outage of electric power and the inability to restart an electric generator without water on-site, supplies of which have been exhausted. In the discussion following Caverly’s presentation, a focus was electric power because of the dependencies of virtually all other infrastructures and services on it and the fact that electric power can be seriously affected by space weather events. Electricity is not storable in form; conversion from other energy sources (e.g., hydro, fossil fuel, nuclear) is required, and the production of electrical energy must be instantaneously matched to the current demand. It is transported via the electric power grids of the United States and Canada, requiring constant attention to many details to assure safe, reliable, secure operations. As the nation’s infrastructures and services increase in complexity and interdependence over time, a major outage of any one infrastructure will have an increasingly widespread impact. For example, the dependence of nearly all critical services on information technology is ever increasing, and the flow of information is itself depen- dent on communications infrastructure and a reliable supply of electric power. Backup power supplies do exist, but in most cases only for limited periods. Service reliability includes provisioning of backup facilities, which must be sufficiently isolated from each other that a single and perhaps even multiple events would not simultaneously shut down both locations. Other examples of key infrastructure dependencies discussed by Caverly included the following: • Loss of key infrastructure for extended periods due to the cascading effects from a space weather event (or other disturbance) could lead to a lack of food, given low inventories and reliance on just-in-time delivery, loss of basic transportation, inability to pump fuel, and loss of refrigeration. • Emergency services would be strained, and command and control might be lost. • Medical care systems would be seriously challenged. • Home dependency on electrically operated medical devices would be jeopardized. RISK EVALUATION As infrastructure designers plan ahead for next-generation systems, recognizing the likelihood of greater interconnectedness and complexity, a key design parameter will be resiliency of the systems to both natural and human-induced perturbations. As the systems transition to these newer designs, risk will be evaluated. The NIPP (National Infrastructure Protection Plan) defines “risk” as a function of threat, vulnerability, and consequence: R = f(T,V,C). Workshop participants discussed broad conceptual approaches to making public infrastructure more resilient to space weather events. These approaches are similar to those identified for ensuring national security and apply to threats of many kinds, including natural and human-induced: • Detect. Identify potential attacks and validate and/or communicate the information, as appropriate. • Defend. Protect assets by preventing or delaying the actual attack, or reducing an attack’s effect on an asset, system, or network. • Mitigate. Lessen the potential impacts of an attack, natural disaster, or accident by introducing system redundancy and resiliency, reducing asset dependency, or isolating downstream assets; • Respond. Engage in activities designed to enable rapid reaction and emergency response to an incident, such as conducting exercises and having adequate crisis response plans, training, and equipment; and • Recover. Allow businesses and government organizations to resume operations quickly and efficiently,

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32 SEVERE SPACE WEATHER EVENTS—UNDERSTANDING SOCIETAL AND ECONOMIC IMPACTS such as by using comprehensive mission and business continuity plans that have been developed through prior planning. As discussed by workshop participants and presenters, all risks cannot be totally eliminated. The goal is to quantify risks and protect against or provide recovery as best possible, recognizing the value of early warnings. Caverly emphasized that meeting these challenges successfully will be greatly enhanced with continued effective partnerships between the infrastructure sectors and federal, state, tribal, and local governments, with international coordination. He concluded with the caution, “We are good at what we know; we are not good at what we don’t know. Planning and preparedness is obviously the key.” LOW-FREQUENCY/HIGH-CONSEQUENCE EVENTS La Porte addressed the issue of how well equipped society is to deal with the potential disruptions caused by space weather events and what the institutional implications of such impacts could be. He argued that space weather events are a classical example of what social scientists call a low-frequency/high-consequence (LF/HC) event, that is, an event that has the potential to have a significant social impact, but one that does not occur with the frequency or discernable regularity that forces society to develop plans for coping with the event. 1 The con- cept of LF/HC events was helpful in giving participants in the workshop a way to think about the social problems associated with and responses to space weather events. La Porte emphasized that this type of event raises a unique set of problems for public (and private) institutions and governance. It requires different types of budgeting and management capability and consequently challenges the basis for conventional policies and risk management. Equally important, he emphasized, is that institutional and social responses to space weather events require a totally different approach than do technical system responses. La Porte pointed out that most social and political institutions are managed on the assumption that they operate within a universe of constant or reliable conditions. Translated to the realm of space weather, this means that social institutions operate under the assumption that they exist in an environment of consistent geomagnetic conditions. The ability of managers to address long-term problems is dependent on their having the time, leader- ship, and necessary resources to develop robust solutions. When confronted with a LF/HC solar event, however, the leaders of conventional social and political institutions find that management policies based on assumptions of constancy do not work well. Moreover, because of the interrelatedness of the economic and technical systems in modern society, risks to one part of the broader system tend to affect other parts of the system. Consequently, it is difficult to understand, much less to calculate, the risks of future LF/HC events. Sustaining preparedness and planning for such low-frequency events in future years is equally difficult. La Porte emphasized that high-reliability systems are dependent on both technical and organizational phe- nomena. Each requires highly reliable operations, and each involves a wide range of institutions, technologies, and stakeholders, exhibiting the functional differentiation that is characteristic of a complex, interdependent society. In this context, the issues that are of particular importance for management are sustaining policy attention to the issue, developing appropriate regulatory responses, and obtaining technical design options that can minimize or eliminate disruptions due to rare extreme events, such as space weather events. RESEARCH ON COMPLEX, ADAPTIVE SYSTEMS La Porte acknowledged that the first response to the prospect of such technical and organizational disruptions is to try to learn to predict anomalies and extreme events, in short, to study space weather. But he argued that to stop there would be shortsighted. He emphasized the critical need to conduct research that enables understanding of how to create and sustain high-reliability organizations or systems that can deal successfully with low-prob- ability issues in a socioeconomic and institutional context. Examples of such organizations include air traffic controller operations, management of electric power grids, and aircraft carriers. Among the research questions that need to be asked is how such organizations come to be dynamic in ways that allow them to absorb changes and challenges from both the technical side and the economic or social environments within which these technical

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33 SPACE WEATHER AND SOCIETY systems operate. These organizations are rare and expensive to maintain, and it is important to understand better how they operate. Institutional learning is generally done through trial and error and in small-scale settings before being expanded to larger-scale settings. But La Porte stressed that a different kind of research is needed to under- stand integrated technical and socioeconomic systems, including communications, electric power, transportation, logistics, computation, and technical components operating in situations where the totality of the system cannot be modeled. This limitation in modeling complex, interdependent technical and social systems, combined with the fact that scientists can only model the implications of future geomagnetic events and cannot test the systems, raises significant research problems. An additional and critical question for understanding potential socioeconomic consequences of space weather events is how managers and organizations can learn to deal with severe geomagnetic events without directly experiencing them. Despite these difficulties, there are ways in which organizations can think about adaptation to and manage- ment of extreme space weather events. Research on complex adaptive systems has done a great deal to enhance understanding of certain situations, despite the fact that understanding how to deal with unknown and not-yet- experienced situations is still extremely difficult. Auto-adaptive systems in which technical competence is high, organizational capacity is high, and openness to new ideas is high should be studied, although it is extraordinarily difficult to find these three qualities in a single organization. La Porte cited the states of California and Florida as providing good examples of public sector learning in response to unexpected, high-consequence events because of their capacity to respond to earthquakes and hurricanes. He emphasized the roles of political leadership, support from the business community, and the existence of a knowledgeable public in bringing this about. The second consideration La Porte emphasized is what he and colleagues have written about as the efficiency- vulnerability trade-off. This trade-off operates where technical systems and capitalist market systems intersect. Economic matters tend toward efficiency, and efficiency means that business decision makers and policy makers inevitably have to make budgetary choices among actions with various costs. Rare or uncommon situations that have not occurred in the recent past are viewed as ripe for elimination of “unneeded” costs. Although this approach improves the immediate bottom line, it can significantly hamper robust operations in the future, when the rare event or uncommon situation may actually take place. When these rare events have negative impacts on systems with complex dependencies and interdependencies, businesses, institutions, and governments could find that their capacity to respond effectively has been compromised. Managers might discover too late that the seemingly slack resources that were reprogrammed have been quickly consumed by other uses and lost. Under these conditions, the social response to unexpected space weather events could be inadequate and could lead to other significant socioeconomic problems. In conclusion, La Porte emphasized the need for more research on issues related to dependency creep and the efficiency-vulnerability trade-off. This is especially important, he argued, for institutions with relative long time horizons. Dependency creep can occur when systems that were developed for one purpose are used by other people for new purposes. That is, existing systems are extended to deal with evolving problems. As a result, new constituents place new demands on the systems and expand them to respond to other issues. Over time, dependency creep can be a significant challenge to both effective policy making and efficient management and operations. SUMMARY Severe space weather can induce abnormalities in and can damage modern systems, including economic systems, that constitute the nation’s critical infrastructure. Service disruptions of relatively short or conceivably very long duration may spread from a directly affected system to many other systems due to dependencies and interdependencies among, for example, electric power supply, transportation and communications, information technology, and government services. As systems become more complex and adaptive over time, the social and economic impacts of space weather are likely to increase. Space weather events may be characterized as low-frequency, high-consequence events. Institutions have developed relatively good ways to prepare for and defend against damaging events that are well understood and likely to occur relatively often. However, low-frequency events, even if the potential damage is great, are typi- cally less well understood and are not given the attention needed to develop complex, costly protection. Speakers

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3 SEVERE SPACE WEATHER EVENTS—UNDERSTANDING SOCIETAL AND ECONOMIC IMPACTS in this workshop session emphasized the importance of devoting greater attention to technological, institutional, and management responses to these events, given what is known about space weather events and their potential to have increasingly broader impacts on both technical and socioeconomic systems. NOTE 1. Perrow, C., Normal Accidents: Living with High-risk Technologies, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1999.