Systems to defend the UK’s vital infrastructure from flooding, and terrorism are inadequate and utility networks are too vulnerable, says a report published by the ICE this week.
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It urges ministers to recognise the interdependency of infrastructure networks and appoint a single point of authority for infrastructure resilience.
The report also says that the remit of sector regulators must expand to include emergency preparation.
Entitled The State of the Nation: Defending Critical Infrastructure, the report is based on an inquiry which took evidence from 70 sources. The inquiry was led by former ICE transport board chair Alan Stilwell.
“We have been concerned about resilience and defence for some time,” said Stilwell.
“We identified threats under three headings: climate change, system failure and terrorism.
“By and large, key infrastructure is not protected against major threats.”
He said vulnerabilities to terrorism and other security threats are “picked up pretty well” by the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI).
But the report says that the issue of system failure is neglected and underfunded, and that climate change is only just beginning to command serious attention.
Stilwell cited the flooding of the Mythe water treatment works in Gloucestershire in Summer 2007 as an example of infrastructure damage at the hands of climate change. Then, 350,000 people were left without a water supply for 17 days.
The report identifies the flooding of the Atomic Weapons Establishment site at Burghfield in 2007 as a further example of near disastrous infrastructure failure where there was a high risk that radioactive material could have spread into the surrounding environment.
“The urgency has always been there − we really need to take action.”
Alan Stilwell, ICE
Stilwell said more effort was needed to prevent future chaos. “The urgency has always been there,” he said. “We have reinforced that message − we really need to take action.”
Stillwell said the publication last week of a government-funded report on climate change by the UK Climate Impact Programme (UKCIP) was encouraging and “very timely”.
But he said the government had said nothing specifically about defending critical infrastructure.
“I hope they will look more seriously at our recommendations,” he said.
ICE warns that more must be done to protect vulnerable infrastructure