I got shot twice with the Pfizer vaccine. That gave me hope for a couple trips I wanted to take. The first, was the AWWA annual conference and exposition in San Diego. That will not happen, but I will be teaching elected officials on line. The second it a family trip to Colorado. Where we say is on the west side of Rocky Mountain national Park, where the East Troublesome first scorched most of the west side, jumped the mountains and scorched more on the east side. Right now, only three of the trails we hike are open. One more is partially open. The entrance station burned. Many of the trails had old buildings – no clue if any are there. Likewise bridges. We will see what it looks like.
Among the big events in the past month are two issues that affect water and sewer utilities. The first was a hack of the Oldsmar water plant in early February. The hacker accessed the plant controls and adjusted a chemical feed system, which created a potential health risk to the community. The good news is an operator noticed that something had changed and called authorities. The FBI confirmed the hack. So how did that happen and can it happen again?
Technology is great, but it cuts two ways. The first is that it allows us to gain data on our systems and to use that information to improve operations. As time has marched on, operators and others have sought more and more data, and more people have wanted to access and use that data. Administrators, public safety, regulatory agencies sand others all have asked for access as they saw the opportunities. And as the systems have become more complex and more access is needed, there is more need for access to IT personnel and others to maintain the system through backdoor access points. That means wired and telephonic access, which opens the doors for unauthorized people to access the system.
One operator’s solution is to pull the wires out of the wall, and remove the blue-tooth access. So, no electronic access. He has argued that administrators do not need access as the plant is staffed 24/7. The site has cameras and alarms note on the exterior walls and inside. Those are patched to police, but not the operator computers. No phone access to operations either at the plant.
He has a point. Access to real time data is great, but carries a risk. He is not willing to take the risk or put his customers at risk. What is the value of 24/7 real time access to people not on the plant site? It’s not like they are making operating decisions from home. Nor are they needing data for analysis and reports over the weekend. We can get that data directly from the plant when we need it. Do we really need all this access? We need to think about this.
For years the federal government has been concerned about foreign and domestic hackers interfering with the power grid. The water sector is less considered but just as critical. Hackers have been able to penetrate the grid on a number of occasions. It creates significant potential for economic and social challenges. We need look only at the aftermath of hurricanes or the recent snowfall in Texas to understand the challenges with a grid shutdown. Hackers can do the same. Even shorter term impacts like the 2003 northeast Blackout can create a problem. Longer term impacts can wreak havoc on society.
We are 100 days into a new administration. We still have covid hanging around, but 1/3 of Americans have been vaccinated. It looks like travel and restaurants are going to be doable this summer. CDC said if you were vaccinated you may not need your masks. Air travel is opening. Happy Days! We head to the new “normal.” Thank goodness it looks like the last 14 months of covid impacts are lessening. It make me think of a comment from a comedian that said from henceforth he would replace all his swear words with 2020 because the year was worse than the connotations of the words. Try it – it works better than you think. And everyone understands. 2020 was difficult for many and the stress of the pandemic, limits on what we do and work/school/home challenges were not seen in years.
So, I wanted until now to write the rest of this blog because I really wanted to think about things, and think about my words before composing. I think 2020 got more difficult as the year progressed. It was not just covid-19. The uncertainty and political discourse that was part of the problem. It made it seem like no one had answers.
But the answer all along was that we needed to slow the spread so we didn’t overwhelm the health care system until the pandemic waned or a vaccine could be found like we see now in India. For viruses that spread like coronavirus, our past tells us that masks help. We saw this with Ebola, H1N1 and other viruses. Masks were required of Americans in the 1918 Spanish flu. Few complained because they saved lives. No one thought their rights were being trampled for a reason not in the public interest, which is the test of government actions. How times have changed, and not for the better.
Covid kills about 2% of those known to be infected, which is way worse than the flu by a factor of 1,000. I am still trying to fathom some of the arguments made. But note that the flu season have been especially good – a 98% reduction over the prior flu season– the masks and lack of contact did work! But the real message on covid and the vaccines seems to morph more into politics than information. Covid is an enemy we needed to be united to fight. That did not happen because of the political season.
The buildup to the election was rife with outlandish statements and foment. There is nothing good that could come from the incessant political posturing on any side. No significant voter fraud was found and the one identified fraud event that was found involved a Republican. 60 lawsuits, including a couple landing at the Supreme Court and endless election officials said there was no proof of widespread election fraud that would have altered the results. The election was what it was. So, it was time to move on right?
Apparently not. I watched the second plane hit the tower in New York on 911 on tv. Tinnamen square as well. I have seen (on tv) riots in Los Angeles, Ferguson, Miami, Detroit, Portland and many other places throughout the world. Mostly riots led by a few thugs that disrupt peaceful protests. Thug violence that destroys lives. And then I saw January 6. There is absolutely no excuse for January 6. People were whipped up by instigators on the internet to do things no foreign power has been able to do. January 6 was not patriotic. It was not what a civil society does. There was violence. And the instigators should be prosecuted. Seriously – people died; many were injured, lives were at risk and federal property damaged. Extremist groups that resort to violence to try to get there are not helpful to resolving issues that transcend society. Intelligent, informed people don’t do things like this.
Let’s make a deal with ourselves going forward. We need to tell the truth, from reliable sources with sourced materials based on facts, not “everybody knows it” type comments. Facts are facts, there are no alternative facts.
We need the Twitter, Facebook and YouTubes of the world to alter their posting policies to address the trolls and instigators. They disrupt society -exactly what the instigators want to do. Private companies have no obligation to permit instigators on their platforms. Free speech is applies government not private companies.
We need to alter our advertising models – the number of clicks is not the only measure of somethings worth. Being audacious gets clicks. Saying and doing repugnant things gets clicks. Is that what we want to sell? We need the Twitter, Facebook and YouTubes of the world to alter their posting policies to address this.
We need to turn down the partisan rhetoric and increase the listening across the aisle. Our enemies are watching. They love the turmoil. So much better if we are fighting amongst ourselves as opposed to paying attention to what they do. Putin is smiling. He is doing what Khrushchev promised in 1964, that the Soviets would not have to fire a shot to topple the US – they would do it with propaganda and the seeds of discontent. And we gave them the internet.
We need to listen. To each other. To other viewpoints. To other concepts, as opposed to reinforcing what we think reality is. For millennia people thought world was flat because “Everybody said so.” Let’s listen to real science. We actually agree on more than we disagree.
We need to pull out Occum’s Razor, the a principle that says the simplest explanation is most often the correct explanation. What does that suggest about elaborate conspiracy theories?
So we are 100 days into the new administration. We made progress on covid. The messages are clear. The chaos has been tamped down. Covid relief was approved. Infrastructure, which will benefit all of us is on the docket. The covid vaccines appear to work and it appears we have the distribution system in process with FEMA being activated. The number of cases is falling.
Many public health officials project the latter part of the summer may be a return to “normal,” or at least a new normal. I doubt we are going ball the way back. People change in a year, and we live our lives differently as a result. But there will be gatherings. There will be travel. There will be jobs added. Economic growth over the next two years may average as high as 6% /year – an unprecedented in the past 50 years or more as we return to normal.
But most of all after 2020 – there is hope.
I know you will make us proud!