Building Back Better Requires Building Back Smarter

With the stroke of the pen, President Biden kickstarted the most significant investment in America’s infrastructure since President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system in the 1950s. The $1 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act paved the way to long-overdue upgrades of the nation’s roads, railways, airports, water systems, and much more. In terms of impact, it has the potential to surpass the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act, which fundamentally changed the face of this country. But that can only occur if we build with an eye toward the future.   

If we simply set about to repair decades-old bridges and tunnels, we miss this “once in a generation” opportunity to plan for the sustainable, resilient, and secure communities needed to lay the foundation for the economy of tomorrow.  

Using the more than $100 billion in federal infrastructure funds, New York state is one example of how the available funds can help offset fare hikes and service cutbacks on the New York City subway system and funding stalled undertakings like the Gateway Program. But a bucket list of backlogged projects cannot be the sum total of the investment in New York’s and the nation’s infrastructure.  

We know what it means to make smart investments in infrastructure built to both last and be adaptable.

We build back smarter by incorporating the most up-to-date technologies when building roads, bridges, sewer, and water systems with centuries-long lifespans and monitoring capabilities that make maintenance easier and reduce wear and tear. 

We were the lead designer on the $1.5 billion New Jersey/New York Goethals Bridge replacement that incorporated a host of smart bridge technology. The design and upgrades included a roadway weather information system, a traffic detection system, structural health monitoring, weigh-in-motion systems, a lane control system, and more. The New York State Thruway Authority used the same approach when replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge. 

But this strategy shouldn’t be limited to multi-billion-dollar mega projects. Investing in smart cities and communities means installing smart sensors and technology into everything from traffic lights to roadways. Doing so reduces vehicle idle time, reduces air pollution, and ensures environmental sustainability. 

Recently, our team received a contract to provide construction management, care, and maintenance services at the Faro Mine in Faro, Yukon, Canada. The mine was once the world’s largest open-pit lead-zinc mine, and we plan to tackle one of Canada’s largest remediation clean-up projects. One of the primary objectives of this contract is to develop and implement strategies that bring economic benefits to the local communities and create sustainable benefits to the Ross River.

In addition to the clean-up projects in Canada, we built and expanded a Syracuse-based state-of-the-art research and development lab dedicated to creating cutting-edge PFAS remediation technologies. The per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination renders drinking water supplies unusable in many communities across the nation. The infrastructure bill includes billions for PFAS remediation, which means we have an unprecedented opportunity to tackle a challenge that has vexed communities across cities, counties, and parishes throughout the country. Making smart investments in the communities of tomorrow means cleaning up the years of imperfect decisions that may not have included a digital perspective. This is a critical component of building back better. 

Finally, and perhaps most notably in our digital world, building smart communities means addressing the abysmal state of our nation’s critical infrastructure cyber protection. Every smart, internet-connected device we build into an infrastructure project presents an opportunity for malicious actors to attack our system. We need a real plan, and real investments, in tackling this threat before it is too late. 

Over the last two decades, the rapid advancement of technology has presented challenges for cybersecurity. As the world becomes more and more interconnected, the frequency of major cyber-attacks has increased, and the impacts of these attacks have grown. The effect cyberattacks have on Critical Infrastructure impacts the global economy. Additionally, it impacts public and national security through industries like aviation, mass transportation, medical care, construction, electricity, water, finances, food, and agriculture; the list of how a cyberattack can affect our daily lives is extensive.

Up until recently, most of the focus for cyber-attacks has been on the DoD and the impact on the military and government. As we have discovered, cyber-attacks aren’t specific to government agencies. The Colonial Pipeline hack made this quite apparent: our infrastructure’s lack of cyber protection is a massive liability to societal health, safety, and security. Water treatment plants, energy grids, nuclear plants, pipelines, transportation, and communication towers are all easy targets in a digital world that is still driven by a stone-age mindset when it comes to security. 

Our holistic Cyber IT and OT programs incorporate a phased approach to baseline cybersecurity and functionality goals and standards, assess current networks, and identify potential vulnerabilities and design while implementing mitigations to improve a network’s security posture continuously and programmatically. We are a leading supplier of cybersecurity and operation technology security for the US government and many intelligence communities. We marry technology and infrastructure to ensure cyber criminals do not have the opportunity to hack our defenses. We design and deliver rapid, interoperable, scalable cyber capabilities to protect infrastructure and infrastructure’s operational technology systems for cyberattacks.  

Cybersecurity history has shown that it is unlikely that all attacks can be avoided. Therefore, if attacked, we are well-positioned to apply best practices: quickly identify the attack, immediately respond by applying a carefully crafted incident response plan, recover to full operation as soon as practical, and adjust normal operations to add mitigations to the type of attack experienced. We understand that many of our customers effectively operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but to operate in this fashion, our customers must also be resilient. Our risk-based approach helps establish the organization, policies, procedures, tools, and techniques to achieve success in cybersecurity operations.

So yes, now is a moment of celebration for those of us committed to building back with smarter, more sustainable infrastructure because of a commitment and funds pouring in to help make this happen. First, however, we must quickly dedicate ourselves to formulating a far-reaching and thoughtful plan to ensure those investments move us toward a sustainable and resilient future. 

About The Author

Tim LaChapelle serves as the Chief Digital Officer for the Connected Communities group. He leads the Parsons Digital service line, which promotes our comprehensive One Parsons digital strategy, identifying and championing opportunities where we can create and deliver additional value for customers using digital innovation. Tim’s experience includes solving complicated problems spanning high-speed financial trading simulation and investment services, globe-spanning customer service capabilities, and research into human/computer analog interfaces.

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