Iraq, The Grid, and Resilience

Stephen DeAngelis

March 02, 2006

Good commentary in today’s New York Times by Glenn Zorpette of IEEE, about the critical role of the power grid in creating stability in Iraq — and the damage to stability caused by the grid’s failure to perform.

While he doesn’t address resilience in so many words, his overall points are directly related.  Critical infrastructure — including privately held infrastructure — is essential to the public good.  Resilient systems, based on best business practices, are an essential level of support.  Consider this challenge:

The Electricity Ministry is also plagued by administrative problems. In the absence of an adequate banking system, most workers in Iraq, including government employees, are paid in cash. This makes it hard to do rigorous accounting at the ministry. Since 2003, its payroll has swelled by 10,000 people, to 48,000. No one doubts that this number includes hundreds, maybe thousands, of “ghost employees”— people invented so their pay can be taken by somebody else.

A resilient accounting and payroll system could help put a floor under the problem.  Such a system wouldn’t be the whole answer by any means — the power grid problem is part of larger national instability, as the example illustrates.  But every improvement — every new resilient system — helps improve stability and gets things moving in the right direction.