Look around you, at the road in front of your house, the airplanes crisscrossing the sky and the sprinklers watering your neighbor’s lawn. All of these things and more are possible due to established infrastructure. The dictionary defines the word infrastructure as “the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities needed for the operation of a society.” Today, we’ll take a look at 25 of the most critical infrastructure sectors, including what each of them has to do with keeping society running smoothly.
The commercial airliners, private planes and helicopters crossing the sky all fall under the aviation infrastructure sector. This branch is in trouble, though, as outdated air traffic control and airport infrastructure aren’t capable of keeping up with the growing number of commercial passengers. There are roughly 7000 aircraft in the air at any time, and there were more than 8 million commercial flights in 2015 alone.
Whether they’re crossing rivers, gorges, or bays, chances are you’ve crossed one of the 614,000 bridges in the United States at some point in your life. Four out of every 10 of these bridges is more than 50 years old — the average bridge is 43 years old. In 2016, there were more than 56,000 structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. in need of repair — a task that the government estimates will cost $123 billion to complete.
We’ve been building dams to block or change the route of rivers for centuries. Today, we use the 90,000 dams in the country for everything from drinking water and irrigation to hydropower and flood control. Of these, 17% are considered to have a high hazard potential, meaning that without intervention they could fail, putting the lives and homes of Americans at risk.
4. Drinking Water and Wastewater
Every time you turn on your faucet or flush your toilet, you’re using infrastructure put in place by the drinking water and wastewater sector. There are more than a million miles worth of water and wastewater pipe in the United States, many of which were laid in the early- to mid-20th century. We use 42 billion gallons of water every single day and 80% of that comes from surface water sources like lakes and rivers, and the remainder comes from underground aquifers.
If you can turn on a light or plug in your phone to charge, thank the country’s energy infrastructure. There are 640,000 miles of high-voltage power lines crisscrossing the country, and countless miles of smaller lines that transmit the power directly to homes and businesses. Our power usage will continue to grow by roughly 0.4% a year between now and 2040, and the infrastructure will need to improve and adapt to keep up with the increased demand. This sector is also in charge of adopting green energy alternatives as they become available to lessen our global dependence on fossil fuels.
6. Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste
Nearly 18,000 sites spread across 22,000 acres of land are dedicated to managing solid and hazardous waste in the country. This includes sites that handle dangerous chemicals once they reach the end of their useful life, as well as the landfills that you send your garbage to every week and the byproducts of manufacturing and mining. Nearly half of the country lives within three miles of a hazardous waste or solid waste processing facility.
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7. Inland Waterways
There are thousands of miles of inland waterways, such as rivers and lakes, that serve as a water highway for freight and passenger travel. For decades, the Mississippi River was the waterway of choice to move freight between the northern and southern states. Now, with a series of locks maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, roughly 14% of the nation’s domestic freight comes in by way of the water. That’s more than 600,000,000 tons of cargo every year.
Levees act as the last line of defense between people, property and rising floodwaters. This is especially important in places like New Orleans where the city sits below sea level. There are 30,000 miles of levees scattered around the country, and maintaining them could mean the difference between weathering the storm and being washed away by a flood.
Overseas trade needs to arrive somewhere. That’s where the United States’ 926 ports come in. We’ve been bringing in goods for centuries — the first recorded international sea trade dates back to 1565 when the U.S. traded food for guns and ammo from the French in what is now Jacksonville, Florida. Moving freight through these ports employs more than 23 million people and brings in $4.6 trillion every year.
10. Public Parks
Everything from national parks like Yellowstone to your neighborhood playground falls under the purview of the public parks infrastructure sector. Americans visit these facilities more than 7 billion times a year to enjoy the outdoors and see all the natural beauty that our country has to offer. This sector also supports a variety of industries, such as grocery stores, restaurants and lodging.
Prior to the advent of commercial flight, the rail was the way to get people and freight from one side of the country to the other. The rail sector is responsible for maintaining and improving the existing rail system. Even now, it still carries five million tons of freight every day, in addition to 85,000 passengers. With increasing fuel costs, experts predict that we’ll see a 40% increase in freight shipments by rail in the next three decades.
Traffic jams, potholes and pavement all fall under the roads infrastructure umbrella. This sector is responsible for maintaining existing roads, as well as figuring out solutions to things like traffic congestion. In 2014, drivers spent 6.9 billion total hours stuck in traffic jams. There are more than four million miles of roads in the country, from highways and interstates down to little residential streets, and this sector is responsible for them all.
If you’ve ever attended a public K-12 school or public college in the United States, you’ve already got a passing familiarity with the school infrastructure branch. There are nearly 50 million students and six million adults attending public schools and colleges at any given time. This critical infrastructure sector is responsible for maintaining and improving these facilities to ensure they’re safe for students and faculty, as well as any crew or visitors to the building.
More people every year are trading in their vehicles in favor of utilizing public transit systems. In 2015, busses, subways and other public transportation carried people to their destination in more than 10.5 billion trips. These systems are adding new lines and new forms of transport every year, and it’s up to the transit infrastructure system to oversee these additions and ensure public transportation is safe for everyone who uses it.
We use dangerous chemicals in our everyday life, from the bleach you use to clean your floors to the drain cleaner you dump down the sink to unclog the drain. The chemical sector is a critical infrastructure sector overseen by the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for overseeing the manufacture, use, transportation and storage of these materials. They are also responsible for protecting stores of these chemicals from external threats. The chemicals sector is responsible for more than 70,000 different products.
16. Commercial Facilities
There are hundreds of thousands of commercial facilities scattered across the country, handling everything from retail sales to entertainment, lodging, outdoor events and even real estate. Since these facilities are primarily open and filled with people, security can become a problem. The commercial facilities branch of the DHS works with owners and tenants to voluntarily improve security across the sector, so consumers can enjoy food, shopping and entertainment safely.
While private owners and operators run most of the communications infrastructure, the Department of Homeland Security oversees it because of its critical nature. It’s linked with a variety of other sectors that work to provide voice and data services to consumers to facilitate communication. When the private sector works with DHS and the federal government, it becomes easier to anticipate and respond to outages to ensure people are able to communicate during their daily lives and during a crisis.
18. Critical Manufacturing
The manufacturing industry is broad and varied, but there are some branches that are considered more critical than others, including metal, machinery, electronics and transportation manufacturing. The products created by this industry are essential to nearly every infrastructure sector, so it makes sense that it would be overseen by the Department of Homeland Security. This sector is responsible for anticipating and managing any risks that could disrupt manufacturing production, making it a critical infrastructure sector.
19. Defense Industrial Base
The defense industrial base sector ties most closely to the United States Military. This sector is responsible for designing, producing, delivering and maintaining the weapons, subsystems, and components that our men and women in uniform use to carry out their missions. They also maintain partnerships with more than 100,000 Department of Defense contractors and anyone who works in DoD or government-owned facilities. Security in this sector is crucial, as a breach could cost the lives of servicemen and women in war zones across the globe.
20. Emergency Services
If you’ve ever had to call 911 in an emergency, then you’re already familiar with the emergency services sector. This field covers everything from emergency medical technicians, police officers, firemen and women, as well as public works companies that provide services during an emergency. It can also provide and supervise specialty services like medevac helicopters, bomb disposal and HAZMAT teams in these areas. 911 dispatchers are just one piece of the larger puzzle that makes up this critical infrastructure sector.
21. Financial Services
Overseen by the Department of the Treasury, the financial services sector includes everything from the bank where you deposit your paycheck to Wall Street investments and everything in between. The world runs on money, and without the financial services infrastructure sector, it would be impossible to keep track of investments, income and interest. Whether your bank is a small privately owned business or a part of a massive global conglomerate, the Department of the Treasury oversees it.\
22. Food & Agriculture
If you have food on your table or in your fridge, thank this critical infrastructure sector. The food and agriculture sector is overseen by both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, even though the majority of the things it oversees are privately owned. This sector handles the 2.1 million farms in the United States, as well as nearly a million restaurants and 200,000 food processing facilities scattered across the landscape.
23. Government Facilities
Thousands of different government facilities exist both here at home and overseas. This sector covers everything from courthouses and military facilities to our international embassies. They handle the maintenance of physical structures, as well as electronic and cybersecurity, to ensure these facilities are safe.
24. Healthcare and Public Health
Doctors offices, health departments and hospitals all fall under the purview of the healthcare and public health sector. The goal of this critical infrastructure sector is to protect the population and the economy from a variety of hazards, from terrorism to disease outbreaks and even natural disasters. Healthcare and public health operates in every state in the country, including on tribal lands and in territories like Puerto Rico.
25. Information Technology
If you have a computer or phone that connects to the internet, thank the information technology sector. Information technology is integral to nearly every part of our country, from security and education to the economy and public health. Much of the sector is privately owned, but the Department of Homeland Security oversees it. Much of our country would fall apart without the services that the information technology sector provides.
Keeping a country running isn’t as simple as sitting in Washington passing laws and legislation. It requires dozens of different sectors, such as these 25, to manage the services that we take for granted every day. Remember how much you depend upon and appreciate these services when you pay your taxes next year!