Society’s functioning is highly dependent on a steady flow of energy via regional and national electricity grids, operating as infrastructural life-support-systems. Increasingly, electricity grids are being reconfigured through the addition of information technologies and capabilities, resulting in digitally enabled forms of infrastructure known as the smart grid. My research examines the implications of the coming together of digital technologies and (energy) infrastructures for how catastrophic failure is conceptualised and governed. Using the blackout as an empirical device, the research asks how a smart grid rollout implies a transformation in how security, risk and resilience are conceptualized, and how in the resulting digital-socio-technical configuration electricity outages of different spatial and timescales are governed.
My interest for the governance of emergency and in particular in relation to electricity stems in part from my long-term membership in the ‘German Federal Agency for Technical Relief’ (THW, https://www.thw.de/EN). As the operational German ‘Civil Defence/Contingency’ (Zivilschutz) agency its structure is unique and 99% of its members are expert volunteers – like myself. In peacetime the resources of the THW are supporting the state led ‘civil protection’ (Kathastrophenschutz), while also providing the federal government with rapid civil emergency response capabilities for oversees deployment.