There’s a quiet transformation happening in our communities that will literally save lives, and it’s led by women who don’t make the headlines. It’s the infrastructure that undergirds our everyday lives. These are the systems that we only notice when they break down, or we have service delays or other problems, including when extreme weather takes them out.
These women keep the lights on, make sure our transportation systems and phones work, and that our parks and green spaces enhance our communities. They aren’t in the limelight but without the work they do every day, our lives, our economy would come to a halt.
Many of these systems are also getting a huge upgrade with funding from the trifecta of recent federal legislation, which the White House says is the largest investment in U.S. infrastructure in history: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; the Inflation Reduction Act; and the CHIPS and Science Act. Collectively, these bills allocate about $1 trillion towards improving the operations and resilience to climate change and cyber-attacks of this infrastructure we depend upon every single day. “The legislation is the largest investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history…(and) “the largest Federal investment in public transit in history” of $89.9 billion over the next five years, according to the White House.
Three women leading infrastructure innovations share a few suggestions.
“We have to go three times faster, three times stronger”
“If we want to accelerate all the efforts in order to decarbonize and to fight against climate change, we have to go three times faster, three times stronger. We have all the technologies, but how to speed it up, how to make sure that it’s deployed even faster,” Gwenaelle Avice Huet, Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer of Schneider Electric, explained recently on Electric Ladies Podcast. She would know because she has deep experience in these issues over many years, including having done scientific research at the French National Research Institute and the French Atomic Energy Commission on Nuclear Energy, and working for the Prime Minister in France within the General Secretary for European Affairs overseeing energy and competitiveness matters.
Huet added that this new legislation will help, saying, “When we see all those extreme events now in California and in other geographies in the United States, there is no time to waste. So, the question is really how to make sure that we go faster, and the acts that have been published will be a strong enabler in order to deploy faster just technologies.”
America’s public transit infrastructure is massive and “is now the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the Biden administration. It includes thousands of buses, light rail, subways, commuter trains, streetcars and trolleys, cable cars, van pool services, ferries and water taxis, paratransit services, monorails and tramways. Then there are the millions of miles of roadways and thousands of bridges.
Here are some important facts about public transit in the U.S. and its impact on the economy from the American Public Transit Association (APTA):
· “Communities that invest in public transit reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by 63 million metric tons annually.”
· “In 2019, Americans took 9.9 billion trips on public transportation.” This includes millions of the essential workers who keep our economy rolling.
· “34 million times each weekday, people board public transportation.”
· “Public transportation is a $80 billion industry that employs more than 448,000 people.”
· “45% of Americans have no access to public transportation.”
· “Every $1 billion invested in public transportation supports and creates approximately 50,000 jobs.”
· “Home values were up to 24% higher near public transportation than in other areas.”
Extreme weather events disrupt or destroy many transportation systems, and climate change is expected to make this worse. Julie White, Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation in the North Carolina Department of Transportation said there are two keys to making these systems more resilient and better for our communities: (1) understand what your community needs by asking them directly; and (2) leverage partnerships.
“It’s intergovernmental partners from the Federal Rail Administration to the Federal Transit Administration, but then it’s the local governments along the line, and then it’s our engineering firm partners or surveyors, our contractors…. I think that partnership is the key to getting anything done,” White said.
“Can you hear me now?”
Since 97% of the U.S. population has a cell phone (according to Pew Research), the economy is literally dependent upon cell phone systems working – and the electric grids that power them. Yet, in extreme weather events, those towers and power lines get knocked out of service, leaving thousands without power.
To address this vulnerability, AT&T partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to create a new technology that predicts the impact of climate change on a given area. It’s called the Climate Risk and Resilience Portal, or ClimRR,.
AT&T was tired of losing over $100 million on destroyed infrastructure in extreme weather events, Jessica Filante Farrington, Director of Global Sustainability at AT&T, and needed to increase its resilience. “It’s not enough to look 10 days ahead and be like, oh gosh, you know, we need to prepare for this,” Farrington explained on Electric Ladies Podcast. “We need to prepare years in advance, because what we really need to be doing is putting in generators, elevating structures. We need to be burying cable because, you know, what does wind impact? But, you know, aerial cable strung from telephone pole to telephone pole.”
With ClimRR, which is free and available to everyone in America, she said, “We have now forward looking data, data that allows us to look 30 years into the future and understand how and where we’re vulnerable. The different hazards, by the way that we have, are flood, wind, drought, and wildfire. And what we’re doing with that is, we’re integrating it into the network design and planning processes, as well as the vulnerability modeling for assets that are in the ground today.”
So, the next time you use your phone, drive on a road, take public transit, or plug in your computer or phone to recharge, you can thank these and the millions of other women in the field maintaining our infrastructure that keeps us safe and our economy moving.
This International Women’s Day, we thank them.
June 5, 2023 Timothy Prickett Morgan As IT analysts
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