“Black Sky” Infrastructure and Societal Resilience Workshop

Monday 16th January 2017

Kohn Centre at The Royal Society, 6 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG.


EVENT REPORT:  Black Sky Workshop at the Royal Society, Jan. 2017


The Black Sky Infrastructure Risk and Resilience Workshop was cosponsored by:

The Cambridge Centre for Existential Risk

The Electric Infrastructure Security Council

The International Centre for Infrastructure Futures (ICIF)

UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities

Note: “Black Sky hazards” has become a new term of art, referring to a set of emerging, natural and malicious national-scale hazards that could cause long duration power outages over large regions, with associated cascading failures of all lifeline infrastructures.


Addressing Black Sky Hazards – Context


“The need to take a whole-system approach has been recognised in government plans, but what this means in practice is less clear. System problems are shared problems: they are caused by no one party in isolation, and can be solved by no one party in isolation. System problems emerge as a consequence of interaction between system components – including the political, social and economic context in which they are embedded – and are best managed collaboratively.”  (Dr Tom Dolan [1])


Problem Statement

In the modern world, our lives are empowered, enriched and sustained by unprecedented access to clean water, electricity, food, health care and pharmaceuticals, and a wide range of other vital products and services. In most modern nations, when disasters strike and the interconnected infrastructure networks that supply these goods and services fail, utilities, corporations, government agencies and mass care NGOs have always been able to depend on the continued availability of these networks in most of the country, setting aside other priorities to come to the aid of the affected region.

In Black Sky hazards, long duration, potentially nationwide power outages and associated cascading failures of all lifeline utilities will drastically limit availability of such “external” support, precisely at the time when it is desperately needed by the population. Thus “scaling up” disaster plans that depend on such external support will be insufficient to meet the unique needs of these severe scenarios.

In addition, to sustain or restore its services, each utility sector typically depends on products and services it receives from other, interdependent sectors. In a Black Sky outage, advance preparations of any one sector, without common, well-coordinated preparations across many sectors, will be unsuccessful due to the lack of these sector-external products and services.


Solution Approaches

Given adequate, well-coordinated advance planning and associated limited, prioritized investment, preparing for these uniquely severe hazards is well within the capabilities of UK corporations and their government and NGO partners. However, since no single sector today can function without the partner sectors each depends on, coordinated planning and engagement is critical.  To resolve the problem of sector interdependencies in highly disrupted environments, such planning must be remarkably broad, addressing the full range of essential sectors.  It must also be operationally focused, designed to ensure each sector’s planning addresses its unique Black Sky mission, with associated recommended “internal” requirements or resilience measures to be taken by that sector, and recommended “external” requirements representing a sector’s needs for support from other sectors.




Registration and Coffee (09.15 – 9.45)


Introductory session: Setting the Context – Emerging Black Sky Hazards (09.45 – 10.15)

Welcome and comments on the nature of existential risk: Lord Martin Rees OM FRS, Astronomer Royal, Founder – Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Cambridge University

Overview of canonical Black Sky hazards:[1] Avi Schnurr, CEO EIS Council

Civil and societal impacts of severe, long duration power outages, regardless of cause: Lord Toby Harris, UK Coordinator, EIS Council; and Member, Joint Committee on National Security Strategy, UK Parliament


Keynote address: Infrastructure Interdependencies and the Nature of Complex Systems (10.15 – 10.45)

Professor Liz Varga, Professor of Complex Infrastructure Systems, Cranfield University


Morning coffee break (10.45 – 11.05)


Panel 1: The Coordination Challenge and Implications (11.05 – 11.55)

Moderator: Lord Martin Rees. Presentations 30 minutes + Moderated Discussion (15 minutes)

National Security Implications for severe Black Sky hazards: Rt. Hon. Lord James Arbuthnot, Director SC Security

Hosting a Black Sky Coordinated Resilience Planning Process in the U.S.: Utilities, Government Agencies, NGOs, Corporations: Brigadier General. (ret.) John Heltzel, Director of Resiliency Planning, EIS Council

The Broad Definition of Resiliency. How is it being implemented in Israel: Brigadier General (Ret.) Meir Elran, Head of the Civilian Sector, Israel National Security Studies (INSS)

Panel 2: Infrastructure Interdependence and Resilience (11.55 – 12.50)

Moderator: Lord Toby Harris. Presentations 30 minutes + Moderated Discussion (20 minutes)

Planning and Managing Infrastructure Interdependencies:[2], [3]   Dr Neil Carhart, University of Bristol

Developing Black Sky Hazard-Resilient Infrastructure: The Benefits of a Collaboratve Approach to the Planning and Management of Infrastructure Interdependency: Dr Ges Rosenberg, University of Bristol

Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives on Infrastructure Resilience[4] and can we learn from the Banking Crisis? Dr Tom Dolan, Research Associate and Centre Coordinator for the International Centre for Infrastructure Futures (ICIF), UCL


Lunch (12.50 – 13.50)


Panel 3: Resilience, Systems, Risk and Perception (13.50 – 14.40)

Moderator: Professor Brian Collins. Presentations 30 minutes + Moderated Discussion (20 minutes)

Local Efficiency and Systemic Effectiveness: John Beckford, John Beckford Consulting

Global Systemic Risk: A research agenda:[5] Miguel Centeno, Musgrave Professor of Sociology; Professor of Sociology and International Affairs; Chair, Department of Sociology

Risk perception in infrastructure funding: Paul Larcey, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge


Panel 4: Learning and Perspectives (14.40 – 15.30)

Moderator: Avi Schnurr. Presentations 30 minutes + Moderated Discussion (20 minutes)

Learning for Resilient Agency for people, supply networks, business models; Resilience Dashboard: Professor Ruth Deakin-Crick, University of Bristol and University of Technology Sydney

Lessons Learned over 68 years in Israel: Developing a Resilient Society in a constantly changing threatening environment: Col (Res.) Gilead Shenhar, Spokesman of the Israeli Home Front Command

Tactical Lessons for Black Sky Resilience from the UK Energy Emergency Executive Committee (E3C) and Local Resilience Forums: Mark Abbott, Head of UK Resilience, National Grid, UK


Tea break (15.30 – 15.50)


Keynote address: Infrastructure Decision-making, Stakeholder Engagement and Disaster Recovery (15.50 – 16.20)

Professor Peter Guthrie, Professor in Engineering for Sustainable Development, Cambridge University


Closing Keynote Address: Holistic Resourcefulness – Governance of the Whole  (16.20 – 16.50)

Professor Brian Collins, University College, London


Depart (16.50 – 17.00)


[1] Electric Infrastructure Protection Handbooks – http://www.eiscouncil.org/App_Data/Upload/3dadf58f-7457-46bf-92a4-551c6608d925.pdf ; http://www.eiscouncil.org/App_Data/Upload/149e7a61-5d8e-4af3-bdbf-68dce1b832b0.pdf ; http://www.eiscouncil.org/App_Data/Upload/7f41c325-654e-4c67-be3d-6941645f4485.pdf

[2] Rosenberg, G; Carhart, N; Edkins, AJ; Ward, J; (2014). Development of a Proposed Interdependency Planning and Management Framework. International Centre for Infrastructure Futures: London, UK. Available at http://www.icif.ac.uk/networks/123/item.html?id=186 doi: 10.14324/20141455020.

[3] Carhart, NJ & Rosenberg, G, (In Press), ‘A Framework for Characterising Infrastructure Interdependencies’. International Journal of Complexity in Applied Science and Technology special issue on: “Next Generation Infrastructure: From Complex Technological Artefacts to Agents of Social Change” http://www.icif.ac.uk/networks/123/portfolio.html#t70

[4] Tom, T., Jude, S., Varga, L., Quinn, A. and Neil Carhart, N. (2016) Infrastructure Resilience: a multi-disciplinary perspective (advanced copy). In: Dolan, T and Collins, B, (eds.) ICIF White Paper Collection (in Press), UCL Press, London, UK. Available online at: www.icif.ac.uk

[5] http://wws.princeton.edu/faculty-research/research/item/emergence-global-systemic-risk