Via BBC News here and here, I read that a long list of key facilities around the world that the US describes as vital to its national security has been released by Wikileaks. Interestingly the list is a) not limited to sites within the continental USA or b) sites of explicitly military nature. Rather it is a global directory of facilities that are seen as being of vital importance to Washington.
On perusing the cables more closely over at Wikileaks it is clear the concern is more for what could be considered soft targets or even soft infrastructures. The goal as stated is to identify “Critical Foreign Dependencies” that are connected and vital to systems. The word system is key here, because it doesn’t refer simply to traditional infrastructure such as ports (although those are included) but also larger networked systems of the globalized economy and telecommunications. Specifically referencing the USA Patriot Act of 2001 (42 U.S.C. 5195(e)) critical infrastructures are defined as “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States the incapacitation or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.”
Additionally, note that although they (at the time) did not seek information on the less tangible effects of any crisis disrupting such infrastructures the State Department acknowledges the soft (or second order effects) that could result from such disruption. Whether it be loss public confidence or economic chaos.
Consider then the recent call for submissions for Bracket [goes soft], which notes “In an era of declared crises—economic, ecological and climatic amongst others– the notion of soft systems has gained increasing traction as a counterpoint to permanent, static and hard systems.” Are the above two ideas complementary? Could the sorts of projective and critical approaches to soft systems that Bracket seeks to provide a platform for, serve as a counterpoint to the list of CFDs? I think it is important to note here that designers aren’t the only one’s interested in systems. What could soft mean in such a context? Is a soft system a soft target? Could one harden a soft target by introducing soft systems? Thus injecting resiliency, by grafting soft onto soft?
Finally, I will note this BBC News article which further expands on the idea of soft infrastructures. Although the notion of ecosystem service(s) isn’t new, it has traditionally focused on quantifying the more literal and ecological ways in which ecosystems provide services (cleansing watersheds, producing oxygen, impacting local climates). However, the author of the BBC piece discusses some examples of other less tangible benefits: such as a US study that is regularly cited which suggests, patients that have a view of nature through hospital windows recover better after surgery. Or quotes a Ms Lipscombe whom argues the calming influence of trees has even been known to slow down driving speeds as drivers tend to go more slowly when something is in their peripheral vision.
Are these sorts of factors a soft infrastructure? Or perhaps the soft product of an infrastructure? If so then maybe one key, is to explicitly discuss or list all these sorts of infrastructural affects and typologies. Thus helping to expand our understanding of critical connections and systems, or strategic infrastructures.