Watts at Stake?: Protecting North America's energy infrastructure from cascading failure and terrorist threats

Alexander Szumilas, Bryce Swerhun, Jeannette Lye


Due to rising consumption, electrical infrastructure has grown in size and complexity. This has allowed for an increased vulnerability of the infrastructure. Under the caveats of high-reliability organisations (HRO) theory and normal accidents theory (NAT), this paper examines two predominant threats to the North American energy sector: cascading failures and terrorism. A key consideration underlying the analysis is that NAT and HRO are not mutually exclusive; it is within both theories to suggest that redundancy and organisational learning are essential for the operation of critical energy infrastructure. This paper argues that while energy infrastructure has several characteristics of an NAT organisation, the high-consequence nature of infrastructure operations lends to a predisposition towards HRO strategies for risk identification and management. Energy infrastructure must be highly reliable, because society expects it to be so – the capacity for meeting periods of high demand must not be disabled by accidents or attacks.


Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP); Energy Infrastructure; Terrorism; Power Failure; Risk Management; Normal Accidents Theory (NAT); High-Reliability Organisations Theory (HRO)

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