After two massive hurricanes impacted Puerto Rico three months ago, the island was left with extensive damage to its electrical infrastructure. Part of the problem was that the infrastructure was woefully inadequate to withstand a hurricane impact at all. It is possible to harden buildings and infrastructure against extreme weather, and a new plan to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid will address many of these changes that, frankly, should have been made long ago.
Among the upgrades to the power distribution system are improvements to SCADA systems. SCADA allows for remote monitoring and control of substations, switchgear, and other equipment which minimizes the need for crews to investigate problems and improves reliability. SCADA can also be used for automation on a large scale, in addition to the installation of other autonomous equipment meant to isolate faults and restore power quickly. The grid will get physical upgrades as well, including equipment like poles, wire, and substations that are designed and installed to a more rigorous standard in order to make them more wind- and flood-tolerant. Additional infrastructure will be placed underground as well, and a more aggressive tree trimming program will be put in place.
The plan also calls for some 21st-century improvements as well, including the implementation of “micro grids”. These micro grids reduce the power system’s reliance on centralized power plants by placing small generation facilities (generators, rooftop solar, etc) in critical areas, like at hospitals. Micro grids can also be used in remote areas to improve reliability where it is often impractical or uneconomical to service.
While hurricanes are inevitable in certain parts of the world, the damage that they cause is often exacerbated by poor design and bad planning. Especially in the mysterious world of power generation and distribution, a robust infrastructure is extremely important for the health, safety, and well-being of the people who rely on it. Hopefully these steps will improve Puerto Rico’s situation, especially since this won’t be the last time a major storm impacts the island.
We humans have put an awful lot of effort into our infrastructure for the last few centuries, and even more effort into burying most of it. And with good reason — not only are above ground cables and pipes unsightly, they’re also vulnerable to damage from exposure to the elements. Some utilities, like natural gas and sanitary sewer lines, are also dangerous, or at least perceived to be so, and so end up buried. Out of sight, out of mind.
But humans love to dig, too, and it seems like no sooner is a paving project completed than some joker with a jackhammer is out there wrecking the pristine roadway. Before the construction starts, though, cryptic markings will appear on the pavement courtesy of your local buried utility locating service, who apply their rainbow markings to the ground so that nothing bad happens to the often fragile infrastructure below our feet.
Continue reading “Knowing What’s Below: Buried Utility Location”
Like it or not speed bumps are an essential part of our road infrastructure especially in built-up places like near schools [Business Insider UK] reports non-Newtonian liquid filled speed bumps are being tested in Spain, Israel and Germany.
Traditional speed bumps do have their drawbacks; damage to the underside of low vehicles is common. While they should be uniform in dimensions, in practice they can vary significantly, making driving over unfamiliar bumps a bit unpredictable. This is all set to change with non-Newtonian bumps which are soft to drive over at slow speeds but for speeding drivers they harden up and act more like traditional bumps. This gives drivers following the letter of the law a better driving experience whilst still deterring speeding drivers..
Non-Newtonian materials are nothing new but we think this is a great way of purposing these type of materials. Roads are getting smart whether you like it or not. It’s time to embrace technology and improve our commutes. Continue reading “Smart Speed Bumps Slow Only Speeding Cars”
Infrastructure seems so permanent and mundane that most of us never give it a second thought. Maintenance doesn’t make for a flashy news story, but you will frequently find a nagging story on the inside pages of the news cycle discussing the slowly degrading, crumbling infrastructure in the United States.
If not given proper attention, it’s easy for these structures to fall into a state of disrepair until one suddenly, and often catastrophically, fails. We’ve already looked at a precarious dam situation currently playing out in California, and although engineers have that situation under control for now, other times we haven’t been so lucky. Today we’ll delve into a couple of notable catastrophic failures and how they might be avoided in future designs.
Gaining Weight While Delaying Repairs
Most of us take infrastructure for granted every day. Power lines, roads, pipelines, and everything else have a sense of permanence and banality that can’t be easily shaken. Sadly, this reality shattered for most people in Minneapolis, Minnesota in August 2007.
Continue reading “Failing Infrastructure And The Lessons It Teaches”
It’s no secret that a vast amount of American infrastructure is in great need of upgrades, repairs or replacements. The repairs that are desperately needed will come, and they will come in one of two ways. Either proactive repairs can be made when problems are first discovered, or repairs can be made at considerably greater cost after catastrophic failures have occurred. As was the case with the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota, we often pay in lives as well. Part of the problem is that infrastructure isn’t very exciting or newsworthy to many people outside of the civil engineering community which leads to complacency and apathy. As a result, it’s likely that you may not have heard about the latest struggle currently playing out in California even though it involves the largest dam in the United States and its potential failure.
Surprisingly enough, the largest dam in the US isn’t the famous Hoover Dam but the Oroville Dam at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. At 235 meters, it is almost 15 meters taller than the Hoover Dam. It can store over four cubic kilometers of water but whether or not it will keep storing that water into the future is currently under question. In February of this year during a flood control operation damage was observed on the dam’s spillway where a massive hole had formed which only got larger as the dam was forced to continue releasing water. The hole quickly grew, and the floodwaters eroded much of the lower half of the spillway embankment, forming a canyon. Continue reading “Another California Water Crisis”
Someone had some fun with the Dallas early warning tornado siren system on Friday, April 8th. All 156 tornado sirens were hacked to go off just before midnight until they were manually turned off individually, reports The Washington Post. Thousands of residents flooded 911 call centers asking if they were under attack, if there was a tornado or if the zombie apocalypse had begun. The sirens were blaring for at least an hour and was originally put down as a malfunction, however it was later revealed that it was a hack and the “hacker” must have had physical access to the siren control center.
This isn’t the first time Dallas has had problems with “hackers” breaking into their infrastructure, Only last year some unknown person/persons hacked electronic road signs (a prank we’ve seen before) in and around Dallas claiming “Work is Canceled — Go Back Home” and “Donald Trump Is A Shape-shifting Lizard!!”. Mayor Mike Rawlings claims the perpetrators will be found and prosecuted although we don’t share his confidence since last year’s attackers are still at large.
The video below is one of many on YouTube filmed by bemused Dallas residents.
UPDATE: This hack seems to have been accomplished via DTMF signals broadcast on radio frequency in the clear. Recognizing the vulnerability after the fact, the system is now using some form of encryption for the control messages. Thanks [Dan J.] for posting this in the comments below.
Continue reading “Every Tornado Siren In Dallas Hacked”
If you lived through the Y2K fiasco, you might remember a lot of hype with almost zero real-world ramifications in the end. As the calendar year flipped from 1999 to 2000 many forecast disastrous software bugs in machines controlling our banking and infrastructure. While this potential disaster didn’t quite live up to its expectations there was another major infrastructure problem, resulting in many blackouts in North America, that reared its head shortly after the new millennium began. While it may have seemed like Y2K was finally coming to fruition based on the amount of chaos that was caused, the actual cause of these blackouts was simply institutional problems with the power grid itself.
Continue reading “When The Grid Goes Dark”