Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 1: Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on April 27, 2018

I have been posting to this blog since late 2009, so patterns have probably become evident in what I write here, and in how I schedule and prioritize that. I am at least loosely following a very specific plan with long-term goals as to what to cover and how in all of this. And I organize what I write and offer here in terms of largely-organized series and topics directories, with the occasional lone, one-off posting added into that mix.

I do in fact at least occasionally address current in-the-news issues and have even developed some of my series around them, at least for the purposes of establishing a level of news-based third party validation of the approaches that I take to addressing those topics. And linked references of that type can and do offer current supportive detail that I can use in developing more fully fleshed out lines of reasoning and analysis there too. But all of that noted, I have to add that there are also some long-term areas of interest and concern for me, that I have in effect mulled over for extended periods before getting to them here at all in this blog, too. I have by now touched upon and at least begun to address some of them; some are still pending for inclusion here. And I begin this posting by stating that my goal here is to at least begin to start an analysis and discussion of one of those topic areas that I have considered, but set aside.

I have held off on posting on some of those issues because I saw need for developing specific foundations for discussing them, and in ways that would fit into this blog as an overall organized effort. And a few of them have simply percolated in my mind as I have waited for the right moment to address them. In this case, I could cite some very specific reasons for that. I have in fact written about politics and even very directly and explicitly and certainly over the course of the last roughly two years now. But I am still reluctant to do so, and the topic at hand here is as much about political ideology and political ambition, as it is about anything.

My goal here is to discuss publically significant infrastructure and what does and does not get funded and supported, and by whom. Let me begin that by putting this into perspective:

• I have written of infrastructure systems and their development and maintenance per se, on multiple occasions in this blog, and in that regard cite series that I have offered throughout my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory. In fact essentially everything offered there fits into the area of infrastructure development and in ways that directly fit into this series, and as foundational material that it would connect to. The issues that I would address here in this posting and in its series to come, do in fact fit into and take on deeper meaning when considered in terms of a groundwork foundation that I have laid for them, there and elsewhere in this blog.
• I have very real and I add pressingly important current events issues in mind as I set out to write about this now: another topics arena that I have written to here and in many topical contexts.
• And the core issues that I would write of here, or at least begin to address in this posting, have been on my mind for quite a while now, certainly going back as far as my experience leading up to my Haiti postings as appear at the start of my above-cited UN-GAID directory. This interest and concern on my part, means for me going back to very early in my work life and life experience too.

I begin this series and this posting in it, with a still too currently topical ongoing news story that for its severity and for the inertia that it faces, has not been resolved or even resolvable and certainly not up to now. Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 with sustained winds of some 155 miles an hour, and before that storm was done there it has laid waste to the island. Homes and businesses were lost, and lives too, and the island’s critical infrastructure systems: their electrical grid and telecommunications systems, their fresh water and sewer systems and roadways and bridges and more were in shambles. And there are still large parts of the island that lack electrical power, just to cite one of many possible recovery metrics that I could make note of here, as I write this on April 5, 2018 and six and a half months later. The most recent figures I have seen for that rebuilding and recovery failure indicate that 11% of the entire island is still without electrical power. And with all of that still going on and unresolved from last year, Puerto Ricans are now facing the start of a 2018 hurricane season too, with its risks of new damage.

Why? How can this be allowed to happen, and particularly when Puerto Rico is an American territory and its citizens are United States citizens, and the United States is supposedly one of the wealthiest and most capable nations on this planet, and one that is based on both democratic principles, and a history and tradition of helping one’s neighbors in time of need? Other, much poorer and resource-limited nations in the Caribbean region have more fully recovered from the devastation that they suffered from that hurricane and from others of the 2017 season. How can this have happened and how and why does this persist and with so little hope left for a real and comprehensive resolution to it and certainly insofar as anything like a nationally led recovery effort might be concerned?

I keep going back in my mind as I raise those questions to the televised sight of President Trump making a brief appearance in San Juan, Puerto Rico after the storm had passed, to among other things proclaim that the people there should not expect any help of any duration or extent from the US federal government and that they would be on their own to recover as best they could. And there he was tossing rolls of paper towels from the back of a truck at the people in a surrounding crowd, as a photo opportunity for his own use and benefit – paper towels that others had sent as part of a private sector relief effort and not on his initiative or with US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) support.

One possible approach to answering those questions and certainly for this troubling and still ongoing event, would be to cite Donald Trump’s well established anti-Hispanic biases with his overtly bigoted hostility towards Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and others. But simply focusing on that type of response would only take this event out of context and treat it as if it were an isolated incidence that did not necessarily fit into a larger and more nuanced pattern. My goal here is to look beyond this one troubling incident and its still unfolding aftermath, to at least consider why some infrastructure challenges remain unaddressed, while others garner more sustained effort for resolving them, and even regardless of what might more objectively be viewed as their relative levels of need and consequence as priorities for action are set.

I began this narrative with this particular example to highlight its importance and for real people and their lives and for real communities and their lives too. And I will have more to add to that narrative in my next installment to this series, where I will discuss the impact that this failure to lead or to act has had in the continental United States. In anticipation of that, I note here that ongoing and unresolved damage to Puerto Rico and its infrastructure and its businesses, have had repercussions that reach into virtually every hospital in the United States, and in ways that president Trump would not have imagined as he threw those rolls of paper towels at people who had just lost seemingly everything. That, as I will discuss in some detail is critically important; failure to address what might seem to be more localized infrastructure challenges can and do bring much more widespread consequences, and in directions that might not be readily anticipated.

I will also at least begin a discussion of New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and how its development and maintenance have been a political football, and a political hostage caught between New York City’s City Hall and Albany. And that has been a significant if often overlooked issue in New York and for both the city and the state, at least since then governor Nelson Rockefeller imposed a layer of state control over the city’s MTA and its decision making authority in 1968, in order to garner more votes for his own reelection bid of that year (see Why Does New York State Control the Subway? That’s the 20-Cent Question.) I will raise and discuss a number of other case study examples in further postings to this too, as I further explore and discuss the questions and issues of what gets supported and worked upon and why, and what is set aside in building and maintaining our critical infrastructure systems.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and see Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, and see its Page 1. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there. I begin this series with an American example, but it addresses globally impactfull issues and events.

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