Humanity is facing a number of interrelated challenges that, together, have the potential to cause the systemic collapse of modern civilization.
Leading academic and research institutions, corporations, philanthropic foundations, and government agencies from across the globe have come together to address this threat in an unprecedented, collaborative effort to develop the critical capabilities needed to ensure societal continuity.
The world is in the grip of high inflation, an energy crisis, and a brewing food crisis. In addition, some of the threats we (naively) thought we had left behind have returned with full force. For the last two and a half years, the world has been gripped by a pandemic that has radically altered our daily lives. After decades of peace, war has returned to the European continent, with the shockwaves of the conflict being felt around the world. All of this is taking place against the background of climate change, a biodiversity crisis, and widespread ecological damage.
At the same time, the increasing threats confronting our tightly interdependent civilization are taking place at a time of unprecedented infrastructure fragility. Disruption in any major sector can quickly cause cascading failures in all the others that depend on its operation.
Individually, each of these challenges could cause a major shock to our economies and societies. Any combination of them could be catastrophic. If the threats we face continue to grow, what can we do to protect and secure our critical infrastructures: electricity, water, food, medicine, and communication – all the products and services that sustain our lives?
A handful of resilience gaps could end any hope of human continuity or recovery from the first extreme hazard event that strikes our world.
These resilience gaps are related to communications, informed decision-making, expanded emergency power resources, and post-catastrophe infrastructure restart capabilities. If not addressed, private and public sector leaders would lose their capacity to understand and act on developments following a catastrophic event in time to sustain our critical infrastructures. And, as a result, various institutions would quickly fall apart, our cities would fall, and chaos would ensue.
Addressing these primary resilience gaps is not sufficient by itself. They merely provide the preconditions for work to start on the actual recovery. However, if these resilience gaps are not filled before a catastrophe strikes, all other actions will fail.
Therefore, plugging these resilience gaps should be a priority for leaders in all sectors. Yet few mechanisms exist to fund the work required to develop and implement the capabilities needed to address global, systemic risks.
As a result, the founders and members of the Human Continuity Project have come together to address this fundamental, civilization-scale need.
In the last several decades, the natural and artificial hazards confronting our world have grown – at precisely the same time that our civilization underwent an unprecedented transformation. Today’s cities are tech-intensive, high-density life support machines with exceptional capabilities, sustained by interconnected infrastructure sectors and supply chains, interwoven on a nearly organic scale.
But there is a downside to tightly interconnected systems. Societies today are vastly more complex than they were even twenty years ago. Thanks to our amazing problem-solving skills, humans have made systems ever more efficient. However, this trend has also increased the complexity of our societies, which has reduced their ability to absorb shocks. As with biological organisms, hazards causing serious disruption in any sector can put the whole system – our civilization – at risk of collapse and lead to a black sky catastrophe: subcontinent-scale power outages lasting for many weeks, causing cascading failure of all utilities, infrastructures, suppliers and other critical facilities.
Without careful, widely deployed resilience measures designed to address this scenario, human society would rapidly lose its complexity, causing the web of relationships that underpins society to fall apart. And the complexity of today’s civilization means that there are very few backups if something serious goes wrong.
Daily life would grind to a halt. The comforts that we take for granted would almost instantly disappear. Far worse: the infrastructures that sustain our societies would fail. Water service and sewerage would stop. If the supermarkets close, most people will not have access to any alternative food sources. As the saying goes: “a society is three meals away from anarchy.”
Unfortunately, the challenges we face are rapidly worsening. As a result, we can reasonably expect a black sky catastrophe to occur within a handful of years. It is urgent that we, that is, humanity, swiftly increase our level of preparedness, and acknowledging this threat and its urgency is the first step.
Following years of work with leading infrastructure operators and other stakeholders, EIS Council founded The Human Continuity Project™ – a collaborative initiative hosting state-of-the-art research, development, and deployment of the core capabilities and tools our civilization will need to mitigate and recover from such catastrophes. Given its priority and urgency, this initiative has begun spreading internationally, as some of the world’s premier academic institutions, research organizations, and corporations join forces to confront this urgent threat to humankind.
EIS Council has spent more than a decade hosting systems engineering-framed multi-sector research, working with stakeholders from different nations to understand their resilience concerns and assess critical societal resilience needs. This process led to assessments of prioritized sector-by-sector and cross-sector resilience issues for black sky events. While all require attention, it became clear that a handful demonstrated fundamental capability gaps.
In the days and weeks following a black sky event, most internet and communication services will fail, when cross-sector and user-supplier-government voice and data-intensive communication will be essential to even begin recovery operations.
Even if the communications problem is resolved, decision-makers will still struggle to acquire comprehensive, real-time situational awareness, and they’ll have difficulty in prioritizing actions amid the countless interconnected, disruptive consequences of a complex catastrophe. Yet even sustaining minimal operations may be impossible for many critical facilities, with nearly all backup power systems configured to operate only for hours or a few days.
The most basic requirement for recovery is a dependable, systematic grid restart (“blackstart”) capability following a subcontinent-scale blackout – a process that will take weeks, even under the best circumstances. Yet this capability may be seriously degraded due to the current decline in blackstart assets and the blackstart impact of the grid’s transition to a more renewable energy mix.
In response to this prioritized assessment, the Council and its private and public sector partners developed requirements for tools that can fill those gaps and initiated development and deployment efforts. Building on this, leading academic and research institutions, NGOs, technology companies, government agencies, and public interest foundations from around the globe are bringing their capabilities to help expand and accelerate these efforts as partners in this ambitious project.
Participating organizations will work together on the research, development, and deployment of the critical capabilities the project is hosting. Utilities, corporate suppliers, and government organizations who will use these capabilities and tools will be directly involved, ensuring that the evolving products of the project will meet their needs in managing recovery from complex, black sky catastrophes.
Near Term, Black Sky Deployment: development and deployment of critical black sky-capable tools.
Partnering organizations in this project are focused on advancing research, development, and active deployment of tools and capabilities that will be essential to fill the most serious gaps in preparedness for extreme, Black Sky-class complex catastrophes. All efforts are closely tied to near-term objectives consistent with this mission.
Mission Requirements: all capabilities will meet two mission requirements, critical to the project’s success.
System Requirements for Critical Tools and Capabilities
Research, development, and deployment efforts in four systems represent the core elements of the initial phase of the Human Continuity Project. Each of these four systems are summarized below, with their requirements. Together, these systems represent tools that address the most urgent societal sustainment gaps for black sky hazards. As the project expands, additional areas will be added to address a wider range of capability gaps.
The targeted initial funding for the first phase of the project will exceed $10M, depending on the funding partners. Funds will be utilized by all partnering organizations.
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