Case Studies

Collapse: A Case Study of the Minneapolis I-35 W Bridge Disaster

On 1 August 2007, a bright and hot summer day in Minneapolis, the city’s Fire Department was dispatched to the I-35W Bridge just after 6:00 p.m. at the height of rush hour.  Upon their arrival, firefighters encountered a massive incident scene:  the entire eight-lane span had fallen into the Mississippi River, taking with it more than 100 vehicles that had been traveling along the interstate highway only moments before.  Additional first responders rushed to the scene as the county’s Incident Command System swung into action.  By 7:55 p.m. emergency workers had pulled the last live victim from the rubble and completed the rescue effort.  Investigators arrived on the scene the next day, and authorities began work on the enormous recovery effort.  As they surveyed the destruction — a gruesome heap of twisted metal and concrete peppered with crushed vehicles that resulted in 13 deaths, 145 injuries, and untold millions in economic losses — they began the difficult task of unraveling the mystery of who or what had caused the bridge to collapse.

This case highlights the challenges of planning and response in a high-vulnerability, multi-threat environment that is a nexus of multiple infrastructure modes. The exercises model robust critical thinking and small group processes to provide a blueprint for tackling the types of challenges faced by Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience professionals. They also reinforce the learners’ ability to recognize critical infrastructure, identify man-made and natural threats and vulnerabilities, prioritize hypotheses, pinpoint potential secondary affects, and think creatively to adapt risk management principles to a changing environment.

Blackout: A Case Study of the 2003 North American Power Outage with Exercises

On 14 August 2003, a little after 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the lights went out over a large swath of the Northeast United States and Canada. In a matter of seconds, large portions of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Ontario, Canada went dark. The loss of electricity not only caused the lights to go out, but also shut down airports, subways, trains, and tunnels. The loss of electric power suspended the operation of automatic doors, elevators, and entire drinking water utilities. It forced hospitals to run on limited power produced by back-up generators. Cell phone towers, cash registers, and ATMs went out of commission. As officials struggled to grapple with the crisis, one thing was immediately clear: the Energy Sector had suffered a huge blow with consequences that affected millions of Americans.

The 2003 North American Blackout was a widespread incident that serves as a robust case study of the    Energy Sector, illustrating the unique characteristics of the Electricity Subsector and the effects of cascading failures and interdependencies for critical infrastructure security and resilience (CISR) professionals. Given the importance of planning activities for CISR professionals, the exercises center on strategy and planning activities in an interdependency-rich environment.

Derailed: A Case Study of the 2001 Howard Street Tunnel Fire

On the evening of July 18, 2001, civil defense sirens wailed in Baltimore, Maryland to alert citizens to a fire that raged below the city. As the alarms sounded, thick, black smoke billowed from both ends of the 1.7-mile Howard Street Tunnel that traversed the city’s downtown area. Intense heat, lack of visibility, and noxious fumes repelled firefighters who attempted to enter the tunnel, forcing them to use water cannons at each end to battle the 1,500-degree Fahrenheit blaze.In addition to the fire, a forty-inch wide water main ruptured above the tunnel, allowing water to seep into the tunnel and flooding the streets and surrounding businesses. As the fire raged and the flooding continued, about 1200 customers in the area lost power, and Internet service in a corridor stretching from Washington to New York City slowed. Vehicular traffic and public transportation ground to a halt as authorities closed all major highways into the city, cordoned off streets above the tunnel, and directed citizens to close their windows, remain inside, and stay away from the affected areas as chemical fumes and billowing smoke filled the air. Late that evening the mayor of Baltimore announced “an apparent derailment” of a freight train in the Howard Street Tunnel and warned that “we still don’t know what we’re dealing with.”

The 2001 Howard Street Tunnel freight train derailment in Baltimore is a compelling case study that illustrates the central role that information sharing plays in CISR. The multi-modal and multi-sector consequences— particularly due to the cascading effects of fire, flood, traffic disruptions, and communications and power outages associated with this prolonged event—present a rich opportunity for learners to think critically about how information sharing strategies can be developed and implemented to mitigate risks and improve response.

Classroom Exercises

Expansion of Lifeline Services in Colorado Springs, CO

This case study is an exercise in describing and assessing the current state of three lifeline infrastructures in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Colorado Springs, CO was selected as the target community because it is a metropolitan region that is large enough to challenge the students but not so large as to overwhelm them.  Additionally, there are many regions of similar size that face similar challenges throughout the nation so it provides a classroom exercise that prepares them for something they might actually do after graduation.  The same case study could be adapted to any city or metropolitan area by simply changing out the reference data and changing the script to reflect the new location.

ACME Amazium Refinery All Hazards Performance Profile

This case study is an exercise in writing an all-hazards performance profile for a fictitious facility in Memphis Tennessee using the Department of Homeland Security’s Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) process (Department of Homeland Security, 2013)  The introductory section offers a brief discussion of resilience and the elements of the all-hazards environment.

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