Working Together to Secure our Delicate, Beautiful World

Humanity is facing a number of interrelated challenges which, 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 that 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 of 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 secure and protect electricity, water, food, medicine, communication – all the products and services that sustain our lives?

The answer is complex, but the starting point is simple

A small 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 they are not addressed, private and public sector leaders would lose their capacity to understand and act on developments following a catastrophe in time to sustain our critical infrastructures. If this were to happen, the institutions of decision-making would quickly fall apart, our cities would fail and chaos would ensue.

It is clear that 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 catastrophe strikes, other actions will fail.

Plugging these resilience gaps should therefore 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.

The founders and members of the Human Continuity Project have come together to explicitly address this fundamental, civilization-scale need.

  • Societal Fragility. Civilization-Scale Threats

In the last several decades the natural and manmade 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: a “Black Sky[1] catastrophe.

The effects of a Black Sky catastrophe would be unprecedented

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 our 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 source. As the popular saying goes: ‘A society is three meals away from anarchy’.

It is important to stress that this is not a hypothetical scenario

Unfortunately, the trends of the challenges we face are rapidly worsening. As a result, we can reasonably expect a Black Sky catastrophe to take place within a handful of years. It is urgent that we – all of humanity – find the will to 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.

  • Emerging Whole-of-World Resilience Collaboration

Addressing civilization-scale fragility requires civilization-wide collaboration. 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 provided unique 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 represent fundamental, all-sector capability gaps.

Communications: In the days and weeks of disruption that will follow a Black Sky event, most internet and communication services will fail, at a time when cross-sector and user-supplier-government voice and data-intensive communication will be essential to even begin recovery operations.

Situational awareness, decision support and (continuing) backup power: If the communications problem is resolved, decision makers will still find themselves struggling to acquire comprehensive, real time situational awareness, and to prioritize 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.

Power grid restart and restoration: The most basic requirement for recovery is a dependable, systematic grid restart (“blackstart”) capability following a subcontinent-scale blackout – a process that, under the best of circumstances, will take weeks. 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.

  • Project Mission and Scope

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. Building on this start, leading academic and research institutions, NGOs, technology companies, government agencies and public interest foundations from around the world are bringing their capabilities to bear to expand and accelerate this effort, 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, and the supplemental efforts they will require. 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.

MISSION

Near Term, Black Sky Deployment: Development and Deployment of Critical Black Sky-Capable Tools and Capabilities

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

  • Black Sky-Capable: Operation in extreme, disrupted, long-duration Black Sky scenarios
  • Commercial Utility for Everyday Operation: Offering profitable, efficiency-enhancing utility for everyday operation or conventional disasters, to enable wide deployment and continual self-evolution, driven by user self-interest.

SCOPE

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 are summarized below, with their system 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.

Communications: IP based and interoperable; must provide voice and data in all conventional or Black Sky disasters on all scales; independent of power grid and national telecom systems; fixed, mobile or air/space-based, widely deployed to interdependent infrastructures, product and service suppliers and relevant government entities.

Commercial Utility: Options to replace portions of commercial, fee-based communication networks.

  • Example: BSX® Emergency Comm System

(in early-stage deployment)

Managing Chaos: Situational awareness and prioritized, time-sensitive decision support sourced from functionally-integrated simulators or operating systems of all major infrastructures and product and service suppliers in a region. Must be operable with interconnected emergency comms systems; unlimited scalability and all-scale disaster operation required, without requiring internet or proprietary data sharing.

Commercial Utility: Multi-sector-sourced investment planning projections.

  • Example: GINOM® Multicorporate OS (in development)

Energy Assurance: Prioritized operation (and refueling) of backup power resources at all critical facilities; Long Duration Power Module (LDPM) to power critical instruments for ~30 days.

Commercial Utility: Ensures operability of backup power in conventional power outages

  • Example: EIS Energy Assurance Planning (initial US state government user)

Resilient Grid Blackstart Restoration: Black Sky hazard protection (e.g., EMP, Cyber, extreme pandemics) and architecture optimization for prioritized blackstart restoration segments of power grids. Must be compatible with (a) rapid restoration of critical facilities and lifeline infrastructure, and (b) grid transformation to low-carbon generation.

Example: EPRO® Handbook V: Blackstart Restoration for a Greener Grid (project initiated)

Schedule and funding

SCHEDULE: The HCP™ Project will begin in the fall of 2022, with its formal inauguration taking place as part of the Resilient, Renewable Planet (R2P) Conference, hosted by EIS Council and Imperial College London, on Imperial’s campus in London on April 17-19, 2023. The initial phase of effort, described above, will span 18 months, continuing through 2023. FUNDING: The targeted initial funding for the first phase of the Project will exceed $10M, depending on funding partners. Funds will be utilized, based on scope of effort, by all partnering organizations

.[1]      Black Sky: The term “Black Sky” refers to subcontinent-scale power outages lasting for many weeks, causing cascading failure of all utilities, infrastructures, suppliers and other critical facilities. Black Sky-class hazards include extreme terrestrial or space weather, extreme cyber attacks or EMP strikes, high-morbidity / highly infectious pandemics, extreme seismic zones in critical infrastructure regions and kinetic attacks on critical infrastructure nodes.

 

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