Engineering systems and the global environment Essay

In this age of technological advancements, modern technology has been a big help in the catastrophic terrorist attacks that have been plaguing many nations. Terrorists have been using technological advancements in the pursuit of their cause – from the famed rifle AK – 47 to improvised bombs from sacks of fertilizer. Albeit the tight security in places that are primary targets of terrorists, the cunning terrorists are in continuous efforts to elude security precautions and carry out their plans. Alarmingly, the increase in vulnerability of advanced nations to terrorist attacks is also due to the tight coupling of their technological systems.

Tight coupling means that a system’s components are closely linked to one another. Each component has its own role in order for the system to function. Different systems are also complexly dependent on other systems. These features of complex and interconnected systems can be exploited by terrorists (Dixon ch. 3, sec. 4). The tight coupling of technological systems makes it easier for the system to be brought down. Failure of an integral part of a system would result in failure of the system as a whole. Other systems which depend on the failed system would be collateral damage. Terrorists should never be underestimated.

They plan an attack carefully and thoroughly. In planning an attack, terrorists train extensively to gain expertise. Financial resources and networks of co-conspirators are also part of their planning (Weisbach ch. 2, sec. 2). The attack on the World Trade Center was planned many years ago. The terrorists first recruited operatives to infiltrate the U. S. and train as pilots. The World Trade Center may have been built to withstand earthquakes and strong winds, but no one could have anticipated megaton bombs in the form of jumbo airliners to crash into the buildings, which caused massive damage and reduced the towers to rubble.

The destruction can be visualized by imagining a line of dominoes – if one domino is pushed in the right direction and it falls, the whole line falls. One of the most vulnerable and maybe the most productive technological system to target would be the U. S. Energy System. The energy system is comprised of the national network of gas pipelines, nuclear power plants, and the electricity grid. There are many components of the system with high value like the oil refineries, tank farms and electrical substations. Almost every other system is dependent on the energy supply.

The transportation system, the subway system for example, is totally dependent on electricity. Other important services like hospitals are also dependent on electricity. The hospital equipment will cease to function if the electricity is cut off. Military defense systems are also unusable without electricity. The paralysis of the energy supply would consequently result in the paralysis of the country. At times of peak energy demand, the energy supply network and in particular, the electricity grid is very tightly coupled (Dixon ch. 4, sec. 3).

The nation’s energy infrastructure—the electricity grid, the natural gas production, transmission, storage, and distribution systems that fuel and power the nation—is inextricably interconnected with other critical infrastructures like subways, hospitals, computer systems (Peerenboom et. al. ch. 1, sec. 1). One problem is the low or zero security implemented in most probable targets of terrorists. A system is a chain, and to break the chain the links must be destroyed. Substations can be viewed as key nodes that are linked to many other parts of the electrical network (Dixon ch. , sec. 4). If terrorists launched carefully planned attacks on a state’s substations, then the result could be devastating. What if the attacks were simultaneous on numerous states, then the result would be catastrophic. With the minimal security personnel present, the attacks can be executed with ease. Power lines are also very vulnerable targets. There are power lines that stretch over uninhabited areas like deserts and canyons. These are equally important in the energy supply chain. And these lines are also minimally or actually not securely guarded.

High voltage transformers are also a critical component of the system. Although the loss of these transformers rarely happen, the recovery from a loss would take months if a replacement for the damaged component is not available (Abel ch. 1, sec. 3). Very dangerous parts of the energy system to hit are the nuclear power plants. A successful attack on one power plant would lead to the death of countless people and the radiation that will spread would render the area uninhabitable for millions of years. Knowing which nuclear power plant to destroy is also a key point.

For example, destroying one near the river would result in radioactive contamination of the river which would increase the damage. In successfully disabling the energy supply system, terrorists can effectively bring down the nation’s transportation system, the communication lines and the water supply systems. Even hospitals and military defenses can be fully disabled. Although it seems like a very big feat to undertake, terrorists may be planning an attack at this very instant. Imagine if the whole U. S. nation suffered a blackout, life as it is would cease to exist. And at present, the U.

S. is highly vulnerable to attack. Preventing the failure of the U. S. energy supply system rests on creating redundancies in the network. This means that engineers and systems designers should make sure that structural parts can hold an increment more than the normal loads they must support (Winner ch. 2, sec. 1). This way even if terrorists are able to destroy a structural part, the other parts may take the load of the disabled part. Important structural parts may also be built hidden, for example, underground. This would make it harder for terrorists to target them.

Policies exist which prevent the development of redundancies in the system. These regulatory policies prevent redundant and competing infrastructure in electricity transmission and distribution networks which create risks and vulnerabilities (Kiesling par. 7). Therefore, these policies should be modified in order to give way for redundancies to be set up. For example, a state can have two or more companies that supply their electricity. This way the state will not be paralyzed completely. Another concern is the ready information regarding the structural plans and locations of U.

S. energy systems on the web, which anyone can access. This makes it a lot easier for terrorists to plan their course of action. The maps of the energy supply structures should not be made available to the public, like being available on the web. Only authorized persons should be allowed to view these maps. A very costly but very effective solution would be creating a backup network, which to avoid being as vulnerable as the primary network, should be hidden underground. Tunnel systems would house the power lines that carry precious electricity.

The construction of nuclear power plants should also be carefully planned. There should be no bodies of water near the plants or other natural resources that would suffer gravely if radioactive contamination occurs. The government should also enhance the utilization of hydroelectric power. Generation of electricity from the kinetic energy of water is presently used. Further improvement of technology in this field can be viable in addressing the threat to the energy supply system of the United States. Another solution would be enhancing the solar power technology.

Providing another primary source of energy would thwart the paralysis of the nation. As sunlight is readily available, any big investment in solar energy technology would be cost effective in the long run. The use of solar power will also decrease the environmental hazards produced by nuclear plants. Research should also be done in finding more ways to generate electricity. As the sources of energy increase, the threat to the U. S. energy system decreases. The provision of alternative sources of energy would make the targeting of key components of the energy system harder.

Infrastructures that are to be built in the future should also be located geographically far from each other, to prevent the destruction of two key components in one blow. The United States is a very powerful nation – in almost every aspect of living, the American people enjoy the most advanced technologies of the world. This powerful nation has evolved, and in its evolution the technological systems that pump life into the nation evolved with it and became more complex and tightly coupled. That is the problem that has to be dealt with today – the tight coupling of key technological systems in the United States.

Each system rests upon each other. Side by side, they depend on each other. The most important system is the energy system. The other systems rely on this system to operate. Without the energy system, other important systems would cease to operate. Without the energy system, the United States would cease to exist. The government must take steps in order to prevent terrorists from disabling the energy system, and in doing so disable the United States entirely. The financial aspects of improving the existing energy supply system could show big figures, but nothing is more important than the security of a nation against a terrorist attack.

Since this problem has been pointed out numerous times in recent papers and discussions, the U. S. Department of Homeland Security and the United States Government as a whole should work on removing the system’s weak spots. The American people rest on false security today, thinking that they are safe from an attack more devastating than what was seen on 9/11. Terrorist groups should not me underestimated and the threat of bringing down the energy supply system should not be overlooked. These terrorists are brilliant educated individuals that would do anything for their cause. The next attack could be the last.