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Deferred Maintenance: The Link to National Security and Resilience


By Dan Hounsell Maintenance & Operations
valve pit of the underground piping network

Maintenance and engineering managers for decades have sounded the alarm on the damage that deferred maintenance is causing on institutional and commercial facilities, especially K-12 schools. Increasingly in recent years, the general public seems to be more aware of the problems the issue is creating for buildings. Now, there is growing evidence of the massive damage deferred maintenance also is causing for the nation’s infrastructure.

According to Lawfare, deferred maintenance of critical infrastructure is a local, state and federal challenge that is a global phenomenon. The damage in the United States could already exceed an estimated $1 trillion, or 5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, according to a 2019 report by the Volcker Alliance, a nonpartisan think tank.

Most deferred maintenance issues in infrastructure translate only into local health and economic problems, but there are serious national security ramifications associated with deferred maintenance. The Volcker Alliance’s 2019 report mentions national security only as a facet of one of the eight criteria it used to evaluate the state of the U.S. infrastructure.

Resilience is defined in the report as an “[i]nfrastructure system’s capability to prevent or protect against significant multi-hazard threats and incidents, and ability to quickly recover and reconstitute critical services with minimum consequences for public safety and health, the economy, and national security.”

Consider drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and their potential for presenting national security challenges. Deferred maintenance of conveyance and treatment systems has resulted in increased structural failures, overflows, blockades and health risks. Besides the substantial health risks of contaminated drinking water, inadequate stormwater systems can severely exacerbate damage to infrastructure during flooding. 

Dan Hounsell is editor of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

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