Risk Insider: Jack Hampton

The Atlanta Highway Collapse

By: | April 3, 2017 • 3 min read
John (Jack) Hampton is a Professor of Business at St. Peter’s University and a former Executive Director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS). His recent book deals with risk management in higher education: "Culture, Intricacies, and Obsessions in Higher Education — Why Colleges and Universities are Struggling to Deliver the Goods." His website is www.jackhampton.com.

On March 31st, a massive fire caused an interstate bridge in Atlanta to collapse during rush hour. No one was hurt even as towering flames and plumes of smoke were visible for more than an hour. Interstate I-85, a daily commuting artery for a quarter of a million people, was closed indefinitely.

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It’s wartime in Atlanta. Within 24 hours, the federal government released $10 million for immediate use and promised much more to repair the overpass. 2017 will be a nightmare for Atlanta motorists. A few years from now, the collapse will be a distant memory.

The situation recalls historical behaviors of Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton. They offer a lesson for contemporary events in American life.

Eisenhower was a peacetime warrior. To win the Second World War, America needed to transport the output of U.S. industry across the Atlantic Ocean. This was a logistical challenge.

Is our crumbling infrastructure a wartime or peacetime challenge? In today’s political climate, no one seems to be seriously seeking an answer to this question.

Patton was a wartime commander. He fought until he ran out of tanks, ammo and gasoline, and then still wanted his men to fight on. To win a war with Patton: arm him, point him toward Germany, and stand back.

Eisenhower famously was quoted multiple times on how we can achieve goals. In a 1957 speech he said, “plans are nothing, budgets are nothing, but planning and flexible budgeting are everything.”

Eisenhower was perfect when peacetime behavior was needed. He carefully planned the invasion of Normandy, a colossal logistical operation.

After being resupplied by Eisenhower, Patton pushed his troops to drive the enemy out of North Africa, Sicily and France. He exhibited wartime behavior.

When planning was the key, peacetime decision-making did the job. When no-nonsense action was needed, a wartime approach was the choice.

Back to the present. In wartime, conditions are always intense, competition is stiff and action trumps planning. Peacetime seeks plans, accuracy and strategies. Many of our political problems today occur because we cannot muster action in peacetime environments.

In the spirit of Eisenhower and Patton, the Atlanta incident has broader ramifications. Fire is not the only thing that takes down transportation routes.

In 2007, an eight-lane I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis, collapsed during the evening rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145. It was carrying 140,000 vehicles daily. The incident produced no visible response to a broader problem.

Ten years later, there are still 56,000 structurally deficient U.S. bridges crossed daily by 185 million vehicles. Almost 2,000 of them are part of the Interstate Highway System.

Is our crumbling infrastructure a wartime or peacetime challenge? In today’s political climate, no one seems to be seriously seeking an answer to this question.

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Let’s answer it. We are a nation struggling to distinguish between wartime and peacetime. Problems that should have been solved long ago became explosive issues that drown out compromise. Post-election behavior by both parties has not been pretty.

Maybe the Atlanta misfortune can spark a badly needed discussion in Washington, D.C. If we start today, a crumbling infrastructure can be a peacetime issue. Everybody wants jobs, better roads and shorter commutes. Wouldn’t it be a blessing if the two political parties develop a plan to repair failing bridges and poorly maintained roadways?

The Interstate Highway System was authorized by President Eisenhower and is named after him. We should demand a bipartisan effort to fix it and the other infrastructure catastrophes waiting to happen.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2017 RIMS

Cyber Threat Will Get More Difficult

Companies should focus on response, resiliency and recovery when it comes to cyber risks.
By: | April 19, 2017 • 2 min read
Topics: Cyber Risks | RIMS

“The sky is not falling” when it comes to cyber security, but the threat is a growing challenge for companies.

“I am not a cyber apocalyptic kind of guy,” said Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, who currently is a principal at the Chertoff Group, a security consultancy.

Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and NSA, and principal, The Chertoff Group

“There are lots of things to worry about in the cyber domain and you don’t have to be apocalyptic to be concerned,” said Hayden prior to his presentation at a Global Risk Forum sponsored by Lockton on Sunday afternoon on the geopolitical threats facing the United States.

“We have only begun to consider the threat as it currently exists in the cyber domain.”

Hayden said cyber risk is equal to the threat times your vulnerability to the threat, times the consequences of a successful attack.

At present, companies are focusing on the vulnerability aspect, and responding by building “high walls and deep moats” to keep attackers out, he said. If you do that successfully, it will prevent 80 percent of the attackers.

“It’s all about making yourself a tougher target than the next like target,” he said.

But that still leaves 20 percent vulnerability, so companies need to focus on the consequences: It’s about response, resiliency and recovery, he said.

The range of attackers is vast, including nations that have used cyber attacks to disrupt Sony (the North Koreans angry about a movie), the Sands Casino (Iranians angry about the owner’s comments about their country), and U.S. banks (Iranians seeking to disrupt iconic U.S. institutions after the Stuxnet attack on their nuclear program), he said.

“You don’t have to offend anybody to be a target,” he said. “It may be enough to be iconic.”

The world order that has existed for the past 75 years “is melting away” and the world is less stable.

And no matter how much private companies do, it may not be enough.

“The big questions in cyber now are law and policy,” Hayden said. “We have not yet decided as a people what we want or will allow our government to do to keep us safe in the cyber domain.”

The U.S. government defends the country’s land, sea and air, but when it comes to cyber, defenses have been mostly left to private enterprises, he said.

“I don’t know that we have quite decided the balance between the government’s role and the private sector’s role,” he said.

As for the government’s role in the geopolitical challenges facing it, Hayden said he has seen times that were more dangerous, but never more complicated.

The world order that has existed for the past 75 years “is melting away” and the world is less stable, he said.

Nations such as North Korea, Iran, Russia and Pakistan are “ambitious, brittle and nuclear.” The Islamic world is in a clash between secular and religious governance, and China, which he said is “competitive and occasionally confrontational” is facing its own demographic and economic challenges.

“It’s going to be a tough century,” Hayden said.

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]