Dr. Stephen Flynn at the 2018 ARTBA National Convention

By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

Rebuilding America’s infrastructure should be “a national, societal imperative,” resiliency expert Dr. Stephen Flynn Oct. 1 told attendees at ARTBA’s National Convention in New York City.

“This has to be a core value, almost a moral responsibility,” said Flynn, one of the world’s leading experts on critical infrastructure and supply chain security and resilience. “We’ve inherited our grandparents’ mansion, but we refuse to do the upkeep. That’s disgraceful.”

He urged contractors and other infrastructure-related firms to explore new federal “opportunity zones,” which provide preferential tax treatment in exchange for development investment. Opportunity zones were part of the federal tax overhaul signed into law last December by President Trump. There are more than 8,700 opportunity zone across the country. (Here’s an FAQ from the IRS.)

Flynn, founding director of the Global Resilience Institute at Northeastern University, noted that while many people worry that there are more disasters, which are more destructive, the larger consideration is how “hyper-connected” the world has become.

“Nothing is in isolation anymore,” he said, comparing the 1900 Galveston hurricane to more recent storms and the Sept. 11 terror attacks. “Cascading infrastructure failures lead to higher costs, more consequences, and greater risks.”

Flynn outlined five barriers that keep communities from building resilient infrastructure:

  • risk illiteracy;
  • inadequate design;
  • pervasive economic disincentives;
  • inadequate government frameworks; and
  • lack of adequate training.

Communities that build more resilient infrastructure will have a competitive advantage over others, Flynn said.

“It’s not just nice to have,” he said. “If you are in a place that can’t cope when something goes wrong, those who can move away, will move away.”