Why are U.S. Northwestern metropolitan areas set back from the coast?

Why are U.S. Northwestern metropolitan areas set back from the coast?

Why are U.S. Northwestern metropolitan areas (cities) set back from the coast? Everywhere in the U.S. major cities tend to sit close to coasts, because this is optimal for trade. Major continental cities also tend to be trade hubs for other reasons (rivers, crossroads, etc.).

Here's a map I made of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA component counties are shaded and circles represent total MSA populations).

As you can see, Northwestern metropolitan counties form a strip which is separated from the coast by a breadth of at least one county, a pattern which cannot be found anywhere else in the U.S. Yet Seattle and Portland are substantial cities, comparable to other major coastal cities, if not the biggest.

Perhaps individual explanations can be found, such as that Seattle actually sits on the deep-set Puget Sound and Portland on the navigable Willamette River. Still, I am intrigued whether there is some kind of generic explanation for this pattern, e.g. no natural port on the coast or unnavigable currents or uninhabitable coast for some reason, but the coast is not steep and even seems to have plenty of estuaries. (An intermediate explanation is that population clustered along Interstate 5, but this only pushes the question back further to why the Interstate 5 was located there in the first place.)

Geographically, the US Pacific Northwest is defined by two main factors:

  1. Very rugged terrain directly against the coast. This makes getting around difficult, and puts navigable waterways at a premium.
  2. The Columbia River. The largest and most important river system in the region. It drains an area larger than the entire country of France, including parts of 6 US states and 2 Canadian provinces.

Let's go through your major metro areas there:

Seattle - This city is on a bay. Technically, not inland at all. Its a nice deep enclosed bay, which is historically a really good place to put major port cities, because your port facilities are relatively sheltered from the violence of the open ocean that way. Compare this to Baltimore, which is on an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Both cities might appear "inland" if you zoom your map out far enough.

Portland - About 100 miles upriver (and 60 miles inland) from the Pacific on the Columbia. This is comparable to the port of New Orleans, which is 105 miles upriver on the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico. Since both cities are on the largest river in North America that empties into their respective sides of the continent, the comparison is a particularly apt one.

You could argue none of the rest of Oregon is really that "major". What they do have (eg: Salem, Eugene) is generally strung along the Wilamette River, which happens to run north for a long stretch until it merges with the Columbia near Portland. There are some inlets along the coast that look like they might have been good spots for a port, but none of them happen to be on a river that's anywhere near the importance of the Columbia.

Much of the same goes for Washington (and a couple more inland states and provinces). What other mid-sized cities exist in the Pacific Northwest are mostly upriver from Portland on the Columbia river system.

Portland sits at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers, along with some lesser rivers like the Clackamas. It's ideally situated for many reasons.

Perhaps more important, the mouth of the Columbia River, known as the Columbia Bar, is a terribly dangerous place for shipping. It would be absolutely foolish to try to put a major port there.

Why are U.S. Northwestern metropolitan areas set back from the coast? - History

By Aryn Braun, Siri Bulusu, Xiumei Dong, Kat Lonsdorf, Patrick Martin, Steven Porter and Thomas Vogel.

A trio of highly trained hackers baited the employees of an electric utility north of Seattle last year with carefully crafted phishing emails. They had a bite in 22 minutes.

Neither alarm bells nor flashing lights drew attention to the mistake, even as a tiny package of malware slipped silently onto the computer of an unsuspecting employee. Had they been hackers with evil intent, they could have cut power to the utility’s 325,000 customers.

Instead, the team was part of an unprecedented partnership between the cybersecurity unit of the Washington State National Guard and the Snohomish County Public Utility District.

The success of the attack should be no surprise, said Lt. Col. Thomas Muehleisen, one of the planners of the hack. These weekend warriors were veteran computer specialists from technology giants Microsoft, Google and Amazon.

“They are all world-class,” said Muehleisen. “Would you be surprised that three Pro Bowl-ers can beat a high school football team?”

The national security implications of the exercise became clear months later when a similarly styled hack crippled three electric facilities in Ukraine, plunging some 225,000 homes and businesses into darkness for several hours. Ukraine has blamed Russia for the attack.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for enhanced protection of the nation’s vast power grid — a network that has been pieced together since the Age of Edison into what engineers and scientists describe as “the largest machine on earth.” But it is unclear in the waning months of the Obama administration whether the issue will remain a key priority. Neither of the major-party candidates has championed protecting the grid this campaign season.

In a two-month study, seven national security reporters with Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism traveled to the Pacific Northwest to determine whether disruptive attacks are possible, likely or even inevitable and whether measures being taken are sufficient to secure the nation’s power grid.

The Pacific Northwest is a logical focal point for studying efforts to protect the power grid not only from cyber but from physical and natural threats as well. The need for long power lines linking dams on the Columbia River to major population centers such as Portland and Seattle creates numerous choke points for terrorists to disrupt the power supply. And scientists predict the region could experience a 9.0-magnitude earthquake within the next 50 years, prompting local and federal authorities in Washington and Oregon to conduct drills last summer in preparation for such a disaster.

The investigation found government officials, industry experts, engineers and scientists are well aware of the challenges they face and are working to combat threats to the grid. But dire predictions of absolute collapse in the event of a concerted attack are overstated.

Scott Aaronson, executive director of security and business continuity for Edison Electric Institute, said the system’s history points to its greatest strength.

“This is a grid that grew up over quite literally 100 years,” Aaronson said. “There is any number of redundancies throughout the system, so taking out one or two or 10 nodes is not going to have the impact that you’d think it’s going to have where the lights go out for 18 months.”

Still, vulnerabilities persist and are not limited to one region. Covering the entire country and parts of Canada, the grid is a network of more than 7,000 power plants, hundreds of thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines and upwards of 55,000 substations.

“Everything is dependent on electricity. Everything,” said David Holcomb, an infrastructure security expert for the Department of Homeland Security. “Without electricity, we’re basically back in the 1850s.”

Battling back and back and back

W ith the Washington National Guard hack team inside Snohomish’s systems, the utility’s cybersecurity team began working to reclaim control.

But once the guardsmen had their foothold, it was not easy to push the intruders out completely.

The two sides used a nearly identical test lab network to preserve service-delivery during the two-week test.

After eight hours of work, the guardsmen had full domain control, including of the utility’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, or SCADA, system. The commonly used network manager enables employees to monitor the grid, and it acts as a hub for information streaming among devices across the utility. With that access the team could have added computers, routers, new users and other cyber assets to the system remotely, Muehleisen said.

“And that was a degree of control they didn’t think we would have ever,” Muehleisen added.

The ease with which the hackers gained access doesn’t mean the utility was unprepared. Quite the contrary, Muehleisen compared the networks to a well-guarded castle.

“They had a moat. The walls were beautiful. They were well-maintained,” Muehleisen said. “But because they needed to get food and they needed to get water, they had a marketplace in the middle of the castle, and people went in and out through the front door. Those were the emails.”

During the penetration test, while the hackers tried to move about the utility’s systems undetected, leaders on both sides — Muehleisen and Benjamin Beberness, the utility’s chief information officer — chatted daily, recapping what had occurred and planning for the next day.

“I could ask them to ratchet up their noise,” Beberness said. “Step on that leaf, right? Be a little noisier, see if we detect you, and that helped us figure out where our tolerance was from a noise perspective.”

Steven Porter interviews Snohomish County Public Utility District's Mark Oens Aug. 2 in the utility's test lab in Everett, Washington, the site of last year's hack by the Washington National Guard. Click around to see a 360-degree view of the test lab.

Although the U.S. grid has never suffered a debilitating cyber attack, there is still cause for concern. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned that components of the U.S. grid have been infected with BlackEnergy malware — the same type of code found on Ukrainian systems after last December’s hack.

In the aftermath, DHS officials have said it is “imperative” that utilities shore up the their cyber defenses. Legislators also are calling for action.

“There’s been more attention to this paid in Congress in recent years, but I still think we’ve got substantial vulnerability here,” said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., who has backed a variety of cybersecurity measures since he took office in 2013. “I think the power grid is a legit concern.”

After revelations in July that the Democratic National Committee’s network had been hacked, the White House called such cyber incidents a “fact of contemporary life.” Then in August, the Department of Energy requested up to $34 million in appropriations for 12 projects in nine states, including Washington, to improve grid resiliency through cybersecurity research.

Rising hackability

As the grid becomes more dependent upon technology, it becomes increasingly vulnerable as well.

More and more, utilities across the country are investing in “smart grid” upgrades, often with federal grant money — several billion dollars since 2010, according to a recent Department of Energy report. The benefits include streamlined communication and remote control. But with increased technological integration come added risks.

“If you push the grid to meet the demands of the 21st and 22nd centuries, these are the kinds of things you have to do,” said Clay Perry, spokesman for the Electric Power Research Institute, or EPRI, an industry nonprofit. “It’s kind of the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t approach.”

Besides doling out funds, federal authorities enforce mandatory critical infrastructure protection standards to keep personnel training, system management and information security, among other things, consistent across the grid. There are hefty fines for non-compliance, and new guidelines that took effect in July increased the number of facilities under federal oversight. Yet there are still some local utilities free from these top-level standards.

But power grid specialists, including EPRI, say federal standards should take into account the grid’s diversity.

“Are you going to mandate the same set of controls for every utility?” said Annabelle Lee, EPRI senior technical executive and cybersecurity expert. “Every utility is different.”

Many utilities, furthermore, use programs and systems created decades ago, early in the development of computer-controlled systems, Lee added.

“Thirty, 40, 50 years ago, nobody worried about cybersecurity,” Lee said.

As the Snohomish County hacking exercise shows, every employee connected to a company network is a potential access point. As companies continue integrating technology into day-to-day operations, employee awareness only increases in importance.

Since something as mundane as an email could open the door to a system shutdown, utilities are using employee-training programs to limit their cyber vulnerability. Beberness and his staff, for instance, send out fake phishing emails to Snohomish utility employees.

“When they take the bait, it immediately brings up a little ‘Hey, here’s why you shouldn't have clicked on this email,’” Beberness said. “So it's a fairly nice set of tools we can use.”

Deterrence plans

Rep. Kilmer had been in office less than two weeks in 2013 when he met then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the Pentagon. Kilmer recalls asking what he thought would be a simple question: “So what keeps you up at night?”

Without hesitation, Panetta replied that the U.S. appears to be at risk and unprepared for a “Cyber 9/11,” that the next big cyber attack could rival the devastation inflicted by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2011. Kilmer said he has focused on cybersecurity ever since.

During the Cold War, nations with nuclear weapons were said to be in a state of “Mutually Assured Destruction.” Riffing on that term, some have described today’s cyberspace standoff as a form of “Mutually Assured Disruption.” Foreign governments may be disinclined to meddle in American computer networks for fear of firm-fisted reprisal.

“The greatest concentration of offensive cyber power on this planet is at the intersection of Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Maryland Route 32, no question about it,” Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency, said in July, pointing to Fort Meade, where the NSA is headquartered.

But these techniques are unlikely to deter cyber-capable criminal and terrorist organizations as effectively.

Such groups control limited territory and infrastructure, muting the effectiveness of a forceful U.S. response.

Local distribution lines deliver electricity to homes and businesses in Everett, Washington, where the Snohomish County Public Utility District is headquartered. (Steven Porter)

Although an attack on Snohomish County’s utility would likely affect local customers exclusively, an attack on a larger power production and distribution facility upstream — such as Bonneville Power Administration, from which Snohomish purchases the majority of its electricity — could have a prolonged regional impact, Beberness noted.

The prospect of such a widespread outage is increasingly unsettling. Financial transactions, communication, certain forms of transportation and even medical treatment could be interrupted.

In the event of a Ukraine-style takedown, Snohomish County utility workers could follow the example of their Ukrainian counterparts and restore power by physically reporting to substations across the county to operate breakers manually. But a manual override would be labor-intensive and difficult to sustain, Beberness said.

Some are calling the Snohomish penetration test a model that should be replicated nationwide, with local utilities soliciting aid from their local guardsmen. Late last year, the National Guard announced plans to establish 13 new cyber units by the end of fiscal year 2019. But, with thousands of utilities across the country, others question whether that’s the best approach.

“Is this really creating a precedent that’s going to bite us later?” said Michael Hamilton, a former chief information security officer for Seattle and current CEO of cybersecurity firm Critical Informatics.

“These organizations, go ‘Well, we don’t have to invest in controls because the government is going to come take care of it for us.’ ”

The question isn’t unique to Snohomish County, and it isn’t limited to the local level.

Jamil Jaffer, director of the Homeland and National Security Law Program at the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, told

the House Small Business Committee in July that Americans need to have a national debate about who’s in charge of providing for the common defense in cyberspace — not only for the power grid but for commerce and other critical sectors as well.

The legal questions at play are particularly troublesome when they pertain to private businesses, Jaffer said.

“We don't expect Target, for example, to have surface-to-air missiles on the top of their warehouses,” Jaffer said. “To be sure, we expect them to have high fences, armed guards and perhaps guard dogs. But we don't expect them to defend against a Russian bomber coming and bombing their warehouses.”

A wake up call

T he Grand Coulee Dam dominates the landscape along the Columbia River in Eastern Washington, a colossal hydroelectric plant made of 12 million cubic yards of concrete, enough to pave a highway stretching from Seattle’s Puget Sound cross country to Miami Beach.

The dam is a product of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, a project that sent Americans back to work in the 1930s during the Great Depression. For some time after its completion in 1940, cars and cattle meandered along the mile-long roadway across the top of the dam. Not anymore.

Post 9/11, the Grand Coulee Dam and other crucial pieces of energy infrastructure throughout the United States are recognized as potential targets of terrorism. A phalanx of armed guards protect the dam’s entryways, fences and gates are controlled by key cards, and barbed wire keeps intruders out of labyrinthine passageways where children once rode their bicycles and families strolled on weekend outings. Visitors can enter the entrails of the dam on guided tours, but hard-hats are required and closed circuit cameras follow their every move.

Coulee appears impervious to attack, but consider that security effort multiplied 3,000 times at each of the public and privately owned power utility plants across the country. Securing the nation’s power grid also includes assessing the risk for hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission lines, thousands more substations and critical high-voltage transformers.

Conceptual diagram of the power grid. Source: Department of Energy 2006.

The potential for damage to the U.S. electrical grid became very real several years ago after a confounding attack in San Jose, California which has still not been solved.

On April 16, 2013 the PG&E Metcalf transmission substation in San Jose, California, was attacked. In 19 minutes, gunfire destroyed one large power transformer and damaged 16 more, jeopardizing the flow of power to Silicon Valley. Communication lines were cut, slowing the utility's ability to react.

The FBI is still investigating the incident, and no one has been charged. There is speculation among industry insiders that Metcalf was a practice run, meant to test the resilience of the electrical grid in the event of an attack.

The Metcalf attack pressured the federal government to act, sending Department of Homeland Security officials around the country to explain the attack, and the threat, to utilities. In addition to the DHS roadshow, utility regulators created the very first set of standards forcing power companies to identify their most critical substations and address any security shortcomings. For many, that meant putting in some combination of cameras, motion sensing equipment and fortified fencing.

“Metcalf was definitely a wake-up call for the industry itself,” said Neil Arthurs, Lead Physical Security Specialist at Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which owns three quarters of the transmission lines in the Pacific Northwest and is responsible for distributing the power produced by the Grand Coulee Dam.

Though the Metcalf incident has been widely discussed in energy, utility and national security circles, it was largely overshadowed by the Boston Marathon bombings, which happened just one day earlier.

Duane Highley, president & CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation, recognized early on how Metcalf would force utilities to think differently about energy security. “It wasn’t until the last decade that utilities had become the front lines of a war,” Highley said.

Power generating behemoths like the Grand Coulee Dam are critical, but well-defended. Still, there are less visible pieces of the grid that also need protection. Security and industry officials have identified high-voltage transformers as uniquely vulnerable, expensive and immensely difficult to replace.

The heart of the grid

In late July, one such transformer sat on a cargo barge, making its way across Diablo Lake, a stunningly blue reservoir in the North Cascade mountains of Washington State near the Canadian border. It would soon become scrap metal — and a lot of it.

The 60-ton high-voltage transformer was one of the original six from the Ross Dam powerhouse. New transformers had been installed the month before for the first time in the dam’s 67-year history.

“These are a real weak point, at least if power was what they’re after,” said Ross Dam powerhouse operator Jim Phillips, pointing to the towering transformer as he watched it float away.

“It’s a real vulnerable spot. If you put an AP [armor-piercing] round through them and they fail, they won’t fail gracefully,” he added.

The Metcalf attack is a prime example of the damage a bullet can do to a transformer.

While transformers vary widely in size and the amount of voltage they can handle, they all perform the same basic job: To transform electricity from one voltage to another, stepping it up to travel long distances across power lines or stepping it down for distribution at a local level. Large, high-voltage transformers play a critical role in the transmission of electricity, often referred to as the “backbone” or the “heart” of the system by people in the field.

The average transformer at a suburban substation is relatively small, but those used to get electricity on or off transmission lines can be as large as a small house. Less than 3 percent of all transformers in the U.S. are high-voltage, but 60 to 70 percent of the nation’s electricity passes through them, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service.

The critical role that high-voltage transformers play in moving electricity across the grid makes them a unique — and volatile — target. Cooled by oil and powered by hundreds of thousands of volts, they often explode if damaged or as they near the end of their lifespan.

But the lifespan of a high-voltage transformer is decades, sometimes upwards of 40 years. While this makes their multi-million dollar price tag more cost-effective, it also made the large transformer manufacturing industry in the United States unstable. Sales skyrocketed during the ‘60s and ‘70s when the modern U.S. power grid was solidifying, but dropped dramatically as the nation’s transformers hummed along healthily.

Without steady business, manufacturing plants closed. By the early 2000s, if the need for a new high-voltage transformer did arise, it often had to be shipped from far away places like South Korea, Israel, or Germany.

High-voltage transformers fall into the same category as much of the nation’s decaying critical infrastructure: largely taken for granted until a dramatic failure occurs.

Different tools in a tool box

Moving a high-voltage transformer is a logistical nightmare, and shipping them from overseas only complicates the matter.

At the Ross Dam, moving out one of the old transformers took a crew of 15 men almost 12 hours. It involved a barge, two flatbed trucks, several forklifts, and a special machine called a Self-Propelled Mobile Transport. The level of the lake had to be lowered by a foot to load it, and then raised back up to unload it on the other side.

Preparing for that day took almost two years. It required state-issued driving permits, thousands of miles of rail lines, and two different international companies specialized in moving large equipment.

A 122,000-pound transformer is barged across the lake just miles from the Canadian border. The transformer is one of the originals, installed in the 1950’s. (Kat Lonsdorf)

“It’s not like we’re just going to go down to Bob’s Transformer Moving for Less or something,” Phillips said.

Moves like this — with permits, railroad cars, crews and machinery — caused government and industry officials alike to start to wonder. What if there weren’t months to spare? What if an area’s power was depending on getting a high-voltage transformer quickly?

In 2008, long before Metcalf, the private and public sector joined forces to try to answer those questions. The Department of Homeland Security and the Electric Power Research Institute began RecX, a project developed with the challenge of transporting and installing a high-voltage transformer in less than a week, using only readily available equipment.

They paired up with ABB, one of the largest transformer manufacturers in the world — at the time, the only one capable of producing a high-voltage transformer in the U.S. — and CenterPoint Energy in Texas. The drill would take the transformer from ABB’s plant in St. Louis south to Houston, carried solely on semi-trucks.

It worked. In 2014, the RecX transformer was successfully installed in five days, 10 hours, and 10 minutes.

“There’s a good chunk that can be learned from planning for this type of disaster and understanding what you can do ahead of time. Just having that in your back pocket so that when things come about, it’s like — okay, I know how to deal with this,” said Sarah Mahmood, who led the DHS Science and Technology team through the six-year RecX planning process.

RecX is only one of several programs and projects developed in the last few years that focus on high-voltage transformer recovery in the event of a sudden failure. Three separate industry groups have devised spare transformer sharing programs.

Craig Stiegemeier, director of technology and transformer services for North America at ABB, said that having a spare transformer is a lot like having a spare tire in the trunk of your car.

“I never use my spare,” he said, “but when I need it I’d really like to have it.”

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) has a transformer sharing program which would be used in the case of a presidentially-declared terrorist attack. Scott Aaronson at EEI stressed that the programs are non-competing, and that any program that adds to resiliency and recovery is helpful.

“I view these as lots of different tools in a toolbox,” he said.

Moving large transformers isn’t the only obstacle. Often custom designed and built, they are largely assembled by hand with components that can be difficult to source. All of this factors into lead times that can stretch over a year.

“It’s not widgets being produced at a high volume,” said Greg Bayman, a sales engineer at Mistubishi’s new high-voltage transformer plant in Tennessee. “There’s very little that can be easily automated.”

In recent years, the number of transformer manufacturing plants in the country able to build large, high-voltage transformers has risen, fueled by an increase in demand as utilities need replacements and energy consumption grows. The federal government has also been discussing high-voltage transformer availability as a national security issue, encouraging manufacturing growth.

The cost of security

A Wake up Call Sanjeev Farwaha, a substation engineer at Snohomish County’s public utility, talks to reporter Kat Lonsdorf about high-voltage transformers and substation security. Click around to see a 360-degree view of the substation.

In the last year, power companies have been required to increase security at critical substations to contend with intentional attacks like the one at Metcalf, and other ‘nuisance crimes’ like copper theft.

Utilities have begun to install costly improvements like new cameras, reinforced fencing and motion sensing technology, in addition to devoting resources to countering cyber threats and, in some areas of the country, seismic protection.

David Holcomb, DHS protective services advisor for the State of Washington, finds it hard to justify putting ballistic walls around transformers when there are other threats to contend with. “If a big enough earthquake occurred it’s going to shake them hard enough where it’s going to kill them anyway.” said Holcomb. “It would be nice if we had hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on every substation, but we don’t.”

Even when expensive security improvements are installed, it’s not a guarantee against further intrusions.

Electric utility Arizona Public Service recently spent $20 million in security upgrades at their Trilby Wash substation, just west of Phoenix. Soon after, 27-year-old John Cooper squeezed into 7-inch gap and shimmied his way into the substation.

Cooper shut off several security cameras and crawled through another small opening to enter the substation control house. The utility shut off the high-voltage lines running to the substation until local law enforcement were able to arrest Cooper. He pled guilty to a reduced charge of criminal damage.

The vast majority of blackouts are triggered by relatively innocuous factors. Weather, trespassers and even squirrels who crawl into substations and get electrocuted have, so far, caused far more headaches for electrical utilities than malicious actors.

For those protecting massive pieces of infrastructure like the Coulee Dam, the fact that there hasn’t been a major attack on the grid makes it difficult to justify a high level of security.

“It’s hard to sell security,” said Patrick Delfing, security captain for the Grand Coulee Dam. “Trying to make a rational business case for our existence sometimes takes up two-thirds of my day.”

Considering the size and scope of the U.S. power grid, it would be impossible for government, industry regulators and utilities to perfectly protect the entire system.

That doesn’t mean a major blackout is inevitable. The diversity and redundancy built into the grid makes it resilient. The Metcalf attack terrified the electricity industry, true, but even then power was rerouted. The lights in Silicon Valley didn’t even blink.

Neighborhood substations like those operated by Snohomish County’s public utility are important to rate-payers, but not necessarily to the well-being of the entire Western Interconnection. “If one substation gets shot out or disabled, electricity can come in through another way,” said Doug Williams, security manager for the utility. “There isn’t a single substation here, if we went offline, that would even be noticed.”

A malicious physical attack on the grid is a legitimate concern, and one that is being studied from utility operations up to the Oval Office, but gunshots to a small neighborhood distribution substation aren’t going to cause a regional blackout. Industry insiders say it would take a coordinated, multi-site attack by someone with intricate knowledge of the grid to do considerable damage.

Utilities cannot predict the likelihood of a terrorist attack or an act of war by a hostile nation-state, but they can prepare. Upping security around critical substations — especially those that feed power to major metropolitan areas like Seattle — and investing in transformer sharing programs are cost-effective ways to temper a constantly evolving threat.

Below the surface

I n certain situations, efforts to protect the electrical grid intersect with emergency planning for possible catastrophic natural disasters such as earthquakes and resulting tsunamis, floods and extreme weather as a result of climate change and even power surges provoked by solar flares.

When Sue and Steven Andrews decided to retire in Washington state, they spent years seeking a quiet and beautiful community to suit their lifestyle. When they chose a home on Whidbey Island, a half-hour ferry ride from Everett, they didn’t realize the hidden danger: a predicted magnitude-9 earthquake, followed by a tsunami.

The Andrews were no strangers to seismic threats. Steven Andrews said he remembers three or four major earthquakes from his time living in California, and knew living on the West Coast came with that risk. It wasn’t until the couple became friendly with the local fire chief in their new neighborhood that they realized how unaware they were.

“We started hearing about this Subduction Zone,” Sue Andrews said. “I never heard that term before. It is something here that other places don’t have."

The Cascadia subduction zone stretches about 700 miles along the west coast, from Vancouver Island in British Columbia to northern California's Cape Mendocino. It is projected to release more than 300 years’ worth of stored energy in an earthquake of unprecedented magnitude in recorded North American history.

According to FEMA’s estimate, the total economic impact of such a quake could cost up to $70 billion. With nearly $50 billion in economic losses, Washington would be hardest hit among West Coast states.

The National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center projects that the earthquake and ensuing tsunami would result in more than 3,000 deaths.

The Puget Sound region is also home to a network of smaller fault lines closer to the surface, including the Seattle Fault and the South Whidbey Fault, that can cause earthquakes up to magnitude 7.4, strong enough to devastate old buildings and threaten critical infrastructure such as substations and power lines.

The area's unique geology contributes to seismic threats.

When the glaciers began receding 10,000 years ago, soft sediments settled in a basin in the Puget Sound area. The main basin, between the southern tip of Whidbey Island and Tacoma, Washington, is about 600 feet deep. The area, which has been called "a water bowl," causes any earthquake to reverberate and amplify the motion by up to 20 times, said John Vidale, a seismologist and professor at the University of Washington.

“It is hard to see which place is most dangerous, we don’t know. It is clear that the center of the basin got the most amplification, what’s pretty close to downtown Seattle,” said Vidale.

Other geologists in Washington state agree that the soft sediments within the basin cause the shaking to act in a complex way unique to the area.

“You can think about it like if you have a bowl of concrete or a bowl of Jello,” said Tim Walsh, chief hazards geologist for the Washington Geological Survey at the Department of Natural Resources. “Hit it on the side, [the energy] will ring right through the concrete. Whereas it will slow down going through the Jello and oscillate.”

An earthquake 1,000 years ago on South Whidbey Island raised one tip of the island 21 feet, sending a massive tsunami reverberating between the coast of Snohomish County and south to Seattle, Walsh said. A similar earthquake is possible again.

While geologists and emergency management departments agree a devastating seismic event is not probable in the near future, making plans for a worst-case-scenario Cascadia event would provide protections for less-severe seismic events as well.

A web of fault lines below the Puget Sound area are poised to release an earthquake that could cause millions of dollars of damage to infrastructure and leave thousands of residents in the dark. Click around to see a 360-degree view of the area.

Sue Andrews said that while she was not frightened at the prospect of a major earthquake, she decided the “healthy thing to do" was everything within their capacity to prepare their home and neighborhood.

“We live on an island, in a small community,” Sue said. “It was made clear to us that the infrastructure that was on the island in terms of response would be very limited. It is necessary that local people be involved in preparing for such emergency."

The Andrews have food, water, cash and perhaps most importantly, an electrical generator that will kick in if their electricity goes out for any reason.

John Ufford, a preparedness unit manager for Washington State Emergency Management Division, said electricity, communications and roadways are central to a 21st Century society.

“Which of those are impacted by a massive earthquake?” Ufford said. “All of the above.”

Ensuring a rapid recovery of the electrical grid is the state’s top priority, helping to speed recovery in other sectors, Ufford said.

But funding for local emergency management has shrunk by 25 percent since the economic downturn in 2008, placing a heavier burden on electric utility companies to protect their own infrastructure and a greater need for private individuals to secure their home’s electricity. This is a reality nationwide, Ufford said.

Together the Bonneville Power Administration and Snohomish County Public Utility District are the leading providers of electricity to the nearly 750,000 people who live in Snohomish County, and while the two companies have invested in securing their infrastructure, it does not eliminate the possibility that thousands will be left in the dark after an earthquake.

More than 170 transmission towers are predicted to fail if the Cascadia earthquake occurs in winter months, according to a BPA earthquake risk assessment. Crustal faults, such as the South Whidbey and Seattle faults can trigger the loss of a few towers, mostly due to landslides.

Leon Kempner Jr., Principal Structural Engineer and Seismic Program Manager at BPA, said the grid was built to a “very low seismic level” in the 1960s when the Northwest was thought to be seismically inactive.

For more than 20 years, BPA has implemented a long-term seismic mitigation program to address the vulnerability of their existing high-voltage electrical transmission line system.

More than 90 percent of BPA’s transformers, the most critical and seismically vulnerable component, are now anchored to the ground to prevent them from sliding or overturning during an earthquake. However, BPA said anchoring the transformers to the foundations also has the effect of amplifying the acceleration, which could result in more damage to transformer components.

As a result, BPA has invested in new technology that can provide additional isolation between the ground motion and the transformer.

Kempner said BPA spends about $5 million each year, a small percentage of the annual budget, to retrofit grid components that are not yet up to standards and research for technology to reduce an earthquake’s impact.

Deception Pass is a strait separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island, in the northwest part of the U.S. state of Washington. It connects Skagit Bay, part of Puget Sound, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (Steve Johnson)

“Obviously we could spend a lot more, but we have a fixed income when it comes to what we can charge our customers,” Kempner said. “We are making the right upgrades at the right time so we’re not passing on huge rate increases to our customers.”

BPA also participated in a four-day FEMA exercise called Cascadia Rising, that tested its emergency response to a Cascadia level event.

“The purpose of the Cascadia Rising exercise was to test our coordinated plans, uncover issues and learn how to better manage through a highly stressful situation,” said John Hairston, chief administrative officer of BPA in written testimony before the DOE.

Through the exercise, Bonneville recognized that it cannot rely on its own capabilities to repair the damage caused by a significant earthquake. The exercise resulted in an agreement between BPA and 44 area utilities to share resources when a major seismic event occurs.

A shaking test for the grid

Because earthquakes are so unpredictable in both timing and magnitude, structural engineers have been researching how best to secure electrical grid components.

The Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center or PEER, at the University of California in Berkeley is home to the world’s largest Shaking Table — a concrete table that simulates motions caused by seismic waves on structures weighing up to 75 tons.

A team of engineers has been testing electrical grid components including porcelain insulators and supporting structures for electrical switches in substations. On the Shaking Table, the engineers run scenarios that are unlikely to occur, but challenge the engineering standards of any given component.

“We have a very small probability but at the same time when we are testing to this level of agitation, we are telling our clients and ourselves that essentially the equipment is very robust and can withstand an earthquake,” said Shakhzod Takhirov, Manager of Structures Laboratory at University of California.

The PEER research team is sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) that is largely supported by utility companies like BPA and PG&E and companies that manufacture grid components. Takhirov and his team are testing equipment to withstand a worst-case-scenario — the Cascadia event.

“When we’re testing our equipment, we’re trying to make sure we meet that threshold,” Takhirov said. “Our performance level means the equipment will perform and withstand a very strong earthquake. When manufacturers are trying to qualify their equipment to performance standards, they all have to do comprehensive analysis to ensure their equipment will not fail."

However, the Shaking Table test does have limitations. When structures and grid components are tested, they shake in isolation, meaning they are not connected to other components as they would be in an actual substation.

“Once you connect everything it will become a different system,” Takhirov said. “You have to see what it’s going to be or predict what it’s going to be. In this case, we must predict."

Takhirov said that flexible components are the best way to ensure that substations and power lines do not fail. Slack between cable lines, for instance, could curb damage by allowing more space for a given structure to move.

“Failing can happen quite easily if you don’t allow slack,” Takhirov said. “Since two pieces are moving in different directions, they can destroy each other."

While these components would greatly increase survivability during an earthquake, funding to utilities for such upgrades is not readily available.

“It is the responsibility of each utility to maintain and upgrade its system using funding from its ratepayers,”said Tony Usibelli, special assistant to the director energy and climate policy at the Washington State Department of Commerce.

Public utilities, like Snohomish, are subject to safety standards and other requirements imposed by the state, but there are no regulations specific to energy infrastructure, Usibelli said.

Chris Heimgartner, assistant general manager of Distribution & Engineering Services at Snohomish County Public Utility District, said the utility has been retrofitting their substations and transmission lines to the current engineering standards which are designed to withstand a Cascadia level event — the really big one.

While the Snohomish public utility would most likely be able to quickly identify and repair the damaged portions of the local power grid, it would be up to the Bonneville Power Administration, which provides more than 80 percent of the local utility, to ensure power was actually getting to Snohomish, said Heimgartner.

Depending on the extent of damage to the BPA transmission system, service might not be restored for weeks or even months, he said, adding that individuals should understand the threat and the limited resources available and take preparedness into their own hands.

The Bonneville Power Administration’s Ross Substation distributes electricity to the Vancouver area. The Bonneville Power Administration spends millions of dollars each year on seismic retrofitting and research. (Kat Lonsdorf)

“In America, we’ve got this horrible pattern where instead of someone being responsible for their own well-being, it’s litigated,” Heimgartner said. “At the end of the day, we want people to take care of themselves.”

On Whidby Island, the Andrews contributed to a neighbourhood fund that bought equipment for disaster relief, but some of their neighbors were offended when the couple began to push for even more preparedness.

After a neighborhood meeting where Sue and Steve made recommendations to their neighbors, they received “nasty” emails for weeks, accusing them of pushing a government agenda.

"I think people are not ready to face the fact that you need to get some of these things in hand, and have it ready,” she continued. "We’re just gonna do the best we can until something happens.”

Solving our own problems

Earthquakes, like cyber and physical attacks, are unpredictable, requiring utilities to invest in preventive and protective measures.

Research on earthquake resistant electrical equipment, investment in spare transformers and the Washington National Guard’s cyber penetration test in Snohomish County are examples of how the Pacific Northwest is attempting to address threats to the power grid.

Cybersecurity expert Michael Hamilton notes that this region, with its large military bases and concentration of lucrative tech companies, cannot wait for solutions from Washington, D.C. “We try to solve our own problems, we think out of the box,” Hamilton said. "We are much more willing to collaborate amongst ourselves, rather than look to the federal government for the solution to our problems."

While federal agencies certainly play a role in improving grid security, differences in geography, weather and local regulations make it almost impossible for the government to legislate one security solution for every possible threat.

After spending eight years at DHS, Sarah Mahmood understands the importance of guarding the grid better than most. “It’s just so vital,” Mahmood said. “To really understand the scope of how critical this is — to all of us — from national security all the way down to getting your groceries, it covers everything.”


What is a Land Acknowledgment?
A Land Acknowledgment is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories. Hear what it means to members of the Native American and Indigenous Peoples Steering Group at Northwestern here. 

Why do we recognize the land?
To recognize the land is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory you reside on, and a way of honoring the Indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial. It is important to understand the long standing history that has brought you to reside on the land, and to seek to understand your place within that history. Land acknowledgments do not exist in a past tense, or historical context: colonialism is a current ongoing process, and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation. It is also worth noting that acknowledging the land is Indigenous protocol. 

Other Resources

Northwestern is a community of learners situated within a network of historical and contemporary relationships with Native American tribes, communities, parents, students, and alumni. It is also in close proximity to an urban Native American community in Chicago and near several tribes in the Midwest. The Northwestern campus sits on the traditional homelands of the people of the Council of Three Fires, the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa as well as the Menominee, Miami and Ho-Chunk nations. It was also a site of trade, travel, gathering and healing for more than a dozen other Native tribes and is still home to over 100,000 tribal members in the state of Illinois.

It is within Northwestern's responsibility as an academic institution to disseminate knowledge about Native peoples and the institution's history with them. Consistent with the University's commitment to diversity and inclusion, Northwestern works towards building relationships with Native American communities through academic pursuits, partnerships, historical recognitions, community service and enrollment efforts. 

About the design

Artist Statement 

Long before skyscrapers and more recent city life spread across the region, these Indigenous Nations have been in relationship with the land and, with that, carry responsibilities. As a small snapshot of life and the landscape then, you can see a canoe resting along the shore of Lake Michigan, surrounded by pine trees. Canoes, made often times using birch bark, are representative of the historic and sustained presence of Indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes area, prior to the arrival of settlers and continued to this day. Adorning the lake are wild rice and wild onion, both of which hold a special place within each tribe. The onion plant is native to the Chicago area and can be attributed to its naming. Wild rice is a sacred plant and food to Great Lakes tribes, tied to migration stories. Wild rice, which is actually a grain and not a rice, is highly nutritious but has been threatened by fracking, pipelines, mines, and proposed genetic engineering. Both plants represent this area, food sovereignty, subsistence, and treaty rights.

Today, Indigenous peoples continue to protect and remain in relationship with these relatives and will do so until the end of time. It is vital to honor these beginnings and recognize the ongoing dedication and importance of Indigenous culture within our communities and within the land that we gather, live, learn and work on.

Artist Biography

Western Wisconsin based artist, Brittany Tainter, is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe of Ojibwe. Originally starting her career as a Graphic Designer, her work now crosses many disciplines and often references Indigenous identity and place.

She owns Giizhig Design Company, a small creative agency that offers graphic design, copywriting, and other services. Since starting the business in 2017, she has expanded her services and now creates and sells custom beadwork. Learn more by visiting www.giizhig.com


America's Next Boom Towns

Which cities have the best chance to prosper in the coming decade? The question is a complex one, and as the economy changes, so, too, will the best-positioned cities.

To identify the cities most likely to boom over the next 10 years, we took the 53 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the country (those with populations exceeding 1 million) and ranked them based on eight metrics indicative of past, present and future vitality. We factored in, equally, the percentage of children in the population, the birth rate, net domestic migration, the percentage of the population aged 25-44 with a bachelor’s degree, income growth, the unemployment rate, and population growth.

The results show two divergent kinds of ascendant cities. One is driven by the tech industry, the in-migration of educated people and sharply rising incomes the other type is what we describe as "opportunity cities," which tend to have a diverse range of industries, lower costs and larger numbers of families. We may be one country, but the future is being shaped by two very different urban archetypes.

The Lone Star Model

The most vital parts of urban America can be encapsulated largely in one five-letter word: Texas. All four of Texas’ major metro areas made our top 10. Austin, Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth and San Antonio are very different places, but they all have enjoyed double-digit job growth from 2010 through 2014, well above the national average of 8.1%. They also all have posted income growth well above the national average.

Gallery: America's Cities Of The Future

But the biggest divergence from the pack may be demographics. The Texas cities have become major people magnets, with huge growth in their populations of young, educated millennials and households with children. The clear star of the show is No. 1-ranked Austin, which has become the nation’s superlative economy over the past decade.

Austin leads the pack in terms of population growth, up 13.2% between 2010 and 2014, in large part driven by the strongest rate of net domestic in-migration of the 53 largest metropolitan areas over the same span: 16.4 per 1,000 residents. The educated proportion of its population between 25 and 44 is 43.7%, well ahead of the national average of 33.6%, although somewhat below the traditional “brain center” cities of the Northeast and the West Coast.

The other Texas cities also do well across the board, with strong domestic in-migration, low unemployment and a rising population of young families. The biggest question marks going ahead involve No. 6 Houston, which benefited heavily from the energy boom and now is dealing with the consequences of the oil price collapse. Most economists do not see a total meltdown as occurred in the 1980s, but it would not be a surprise to see Houston fall out of our top 10 until energy prices recover. Economist Patrick Jankowski projects some 9,000 layoffs in the energy sector locally in 2016 but enough growth elsewhere -- for example 9,000 new jobs in medical services -- to keep employment expanding, although far below the pace of the last few years. The other, less energy-dependent Texas metro areas seem likely to continue their stellar performance.

The Flyover Superstars

There are several dynamic, fast-growing metro areas elsewhere in the country that seem likely to increase their status in the coming years, mostly in the Southeast and the Intermountain West. Like the Texas cities, these areas enjoy lower costs than the Northeast or California, notably for housing, and tend to be pro-business. All are experiencing significant population growth.

No. 2 Salt Lake City and No. 4 Denver have been expanding for years, with significant tech-sector growth. Both are logging population increases, with Denver benefiting from strong domestic in-migration while Salt Lake City has the highest birth rate among major metro areas, 16.9 per 1,000 women from 2010-14, largely due to its fecund Mormon population.

The Southeast has a number of ascendant cities led by No. 5 Raleigh, which, like Austin, has emerged as a tech hot-spot. Some 49% of all Raleigh residents aged 25 to 44 have a four-year degree, higher than any other metro area in the South. The national average is 33.6%.

The Glorious Gated Community

Unlike the rest of our rising cities, the Bay Area’s two major metro areas -- No. 3 San Jose and No. 9 San Francisco -- do not boast rapid population growth, and have low rates of family formation and births. Yet the area’s technology domination has made it so rich that it blows by most regions in terms of positioning for the future.

The big divergence here is income growth. Since 2010, the two metro areas have enjoyed the strongest expansion in earnings in the nation – 9.2% in the San Jose area between 2010 and 2015 and 7.8% in San Francisco. Silicon Valley and the Bay Area also boast extraordinarily well-educated young workforces. In San Jose 53.5% of workers aged 25 to 44 have a college degree, the third-highest share in the nation, and San Francisco ranks fourth at 52.4%.

So why are people not flocking to these areas? San Jose is net negative for domestic migration over the time we examined while San Francisco made modest gains only after years of net out-migration. Much of the problem lies in high housing prices, which, notes Dartmouth College economist William Fischel, have turned the Bay Area and the Valley into an “exclusionary region” inaccessible to all but the wealthy and highly gifted.

Given the growing importance of the technology industry, it seems likely that this gated region will continue to thrive in the years ahead, albeit with a low level of new family formation, relatively few children and a limited middle class. It’s a model that some cites may wish to duplicate but few will be able to. Perhaps the most promising candidate to join this list is No. 15 Seattle, which also has experienced strong job growth, largely from technology and boasts a large population of college graduates.

The Fading Big Enchiladas

Perhaps the most glaring omissions at the top of our list are America’s three largest metropolitan areas: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Of the three, New York does best, but only well enough for 36th place, hardly what one would expect for America’s, and arguably the world’s, premier city.

New York has high costs like San Francisco but a far more bifurcated economy and demographics. Wall Street may be approaching the end of an epic run, but overall incomes in New York have fallen 0.5% since 2010. Employment has expanded a respectable 7.3% over the past five years, roughly the national average, but the metro area has the highest rate of domestic out-migration in the country.

Similar dynamics have lowered future prospects for Los Angeles and Chicago. Ranked 39th, Los Angeles has posted better job growth than New York at 10.2%, but its income losses were also more severe, down 3.8%. As in Gotham, the elites of Southern California in entertainment, real estate and technology may be thriving, but the vast majority are not doing so well, as manufacturing, construction and business services have lagged. Los Angeles’ population -- more heavily Latino and African America -- is also less well-educated, with only 34.8% of adults 25 to 44 holding bachelor’s degrees, a good 20 points less than their San Francisco-area competitors.

Chicago, ranked 40th, appears to have worse prospects. For all its problems, Los Angeles still dominates entertainment, has the largest port in the country, close Pacific Rim connection and enjoys the finest weather on the continent. Chicago has none of those advantages, although it boasts a very attractive downtown. The region around the magnificent mile is not doing well, with low job and population growth, stagnant incomes and strong out-migration. Urban analyst Pete Saunders describes Chicago’s economy as “one-third San Francisco and two-thirds Detroit.” That seems more true than many Windy City boosters would like to admit.

Future Of The Future

Of course the future is not completely predicable and many things could change in the coming years. In the short run, as mentioned above, the energy boom towns will take a bit of a hit. Energy slowdowns could impact other cities with a concentration in this industry, notably Denver, Salt Lake and even Columbus, near Ohio’s big natural gas and oil reserves.

But other factors suggest that these lower-cost cities will do well into the future. Columbus, Ohio, for example, may see its job growth impacted, but the benefits of strong in-migration will linger, particularly the growing numbers of college-educated millennials who have headed to it and other more affordable Rust Belt metro areas in recent years.

Ultimately we may see the emergence of two distinct urban futures. One will emerge in elite “gated” regions such as San Francisco, San Jose, and, perhaps in the near term, Seattle. These areas will dominate many key tech sectors, and will continue to leverage their well-educated populations. The other will be more along the Texas model, diversified economies driven by lower costs, particularly for housing, diversified economies and increasingly well-educated populations.

Rather than being fundamentally incompatible, this enormous country should have room for both models. America needs its elite centers, but there also have to be cities for middle-class families. Each can claim a piece of the future.

U.S. Relations With Panama

The United States established diplomatic relations with Panama in 1903 following its declaration of independence from Colombia. That year, through the Hay/Bunau-Varilla Treaty, Panama granted the United States rights to a zone spanning the country to build, administer, fortify and defend an inter-oceanic canal. The Panama Canal opened in 1914. In 1977, the United States and Panama signed the Carter-Torrijos Treaties to set basic governing standards for the Canal through 1999 and guarantee its permanent neutrality. These treaties went into effect in 1979, and on December 31, 1999, Panama assumed full jurisdiction and operational control over the Canal.

Changes in Panama’s government and tensions over the Canal led to the interruption of diplomatic relations several times during the 20th century. From 1987-1989, relations deteriorated sharply under the rule of Manuel Noriega. During Operation Just Cause in 1989, U.S. troops entered Panama and captured Noriega, who would not cede power following elections. Since the restoration of democracy, Panamanians have elected five presidents from three political parties in free and fair elections.

Panama’s location and role in global trade make its success vital to U.S. prosperity and national security. Panama’s key location along major land and sea transit routes makes it a critical partner in the interdiction of illegal drugs destined for the United States. While Panama’s economic growth rate is among the highest in the hemisphere, the country faces the challenge of making this growth more inclusive. It also faces added pressure for more fiscal transparency as it enforces recent anti-money laundering legislation. Increasing pressure from drug trafficking and organized criminal activity – including migrant smugglers – contributes to security problems that threaten to undermine Panamanian security, democratic institutions, and economic prosperity. Because of our shared history, cultural ties between both countries are strong.

U.S. Assistance to Panama

U.S. assistance to Panama aims to ensure Panama remains a secure, prosperous, and democratic country that continues to work with the United States as its principal partner in the region. The United States and Panama work together to advance common interests in improving citizen safety and strengthening the rule of law. They cooperate in many ways, including combating illegal drug trafficking and other criminal activity, as well as promoting economic, democratic, and social development through U.S. and international agencies.

The U.S. Strategy for Central America (Strategy) guides U.S. diplomatic efforts and foreign assistance in the region. The Strategy is a bipartisan, multiyear U.S. government plan covering all seven Central American countries (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama). The Strategy aims to secure U.S. borders and protect American citizens by addressing the security, governance, and economic drivers of illegal immigration and transnational crime, while increasing opportunities for U.S. and other businesses. The Strategy focuses on three overarching lines of action: 1) promoting prosperity, 2) enhancing security, and 3) improving governance.

Bilateral Economic Relations

The United States and Panama have signed a bilateral investment treaty and a Trade Promotion Agreement. The trade agreement eliminates tariffs and other barriers to U.S. exports, promotes economic growth, sets high standards for the treatment of investments, provides a framework for resolution of investment or trade disputes, and expands trade between the two countries. In 2016, Panama inaugurated the expansion of the Panama Canal, which has provided substantial benefits to Panama and many U.S. East Coast ports. U.S. exports to Panama include oil, machinery, aircraft, agricultural products, and low-value shipments. The United States is the number-one user of the Canal, with 68 percent of transits heading to or from U.S. ports. U.S. imports from Panama include fish and seafood, gold, cane sugar, bananas, and pineapples. The finance/insurance and wholesale trade sectors lead U.S. direct investment in Panama, while the manufacturing and real estate sectors lead Panamanian direct investment in the United States.

Panama’s Membership in International Organizations

Panama and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Organization of American States, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, International Maritime Organization, and World Trade Organization.

Bilateral Representation

Principal U.S. embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.

Panama maintains an embassy in the United States at 2862 McGill Terrace, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-483-1407).

More information about Panama is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:

Other Factors to Consider

Though looking to the average or median home sales price can give you a general idea of how much it will cost to own, you’ll need to consider other financial factors to get a more accurate figure to better compare area rentals to.

For example, what kind of mortgage rate will you qualify for? (i.e. how’s your credit?) How much of a down payment can you contribute? Will you need to purchase mortgage insurance? Also, how much are real estate taxes and insurance in your area? The answers to these questions will indicate how much you can expect to pay for home ownership on a monthly basis. This will be most useful in “gray-area” cities where the financial benefits to buying and owning can be close.

Don’t forget the all-important home mortgage interest tax deduction either. This can reduce your annual tax bill by thousands, especially if you’re in a high income tax tax bracket, and thereby lower your overall cost to own, perhaps significantly. Owning a home will also put you in a position to build up equity that can be recaptured when you sell as long as the housing market doesn’t decline further.

Renting, on the other hand, is not an investment – you’re neither in a position to lose or gain any additional money. For these reasons, assess where you think the housing market is headed in general and specific to the area you’re looking at before you decide whether to rent or buy.

Where Flooding Has Been Most Frequent in the U.S.

We are currently in a time of year when flash floods are a common threat across the United States.

With abundant moisture and weak winds aloft at times, the table is set for slow-moving bouts of rain and thunderstorms that can unleash several inches of rain in a short amount of time.

As you would expect, flooding is most common in the U.S. during the warmer months of the year, spanning from spring and summer into early fall. And it's not just flash flooding that's a threat, there is also coastal flooding and river flooding.

Geographically speaking, one or more of those different types of flooding could occur in almost every part of the country at some point in a given year. Some locations, however, have a greater overall risk than others.

This map from FEMA illustrates this risk, by displaying the number of flood events per county 1996-2013. The flood events on the map include a wide spectrum from flash flooding and river flooding to storm surge inundation.

The darkest two brown shadings show where the highest concentration of flood reports were located in the U.S. during that 18-year period.

Let's step through a few things noteworthy things that this map shows.

Urban Areas

You'll notice that some urban areas have had a higher number of flood events for the period of time shown. Since urban areas have a larger amount of pavement compared to rural areas, they are generally more prone to flooding.

Metro areas such as Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit also stand out from their more rural surroundings with a higher concentration of flood events.

Largest Concentration of Flood Events in the Northeast and Midwest

A relatively higher number of flood reports is also seen from the Northeast into the Midwest.

In those regions, snow melt combined with rainfall can lead to river flooding in spring.

One area where river flooding really stands out is in the counties near the Red River along the border between northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.

The hilly terrain in the Appalachians can also play a role in enhancing the flooding potential in parts of the East.

Flash flooding is a concern from slow-moving individual thunderstorms in the warm season. In addition, larger thunderstorm clusters called Mesoscale Convective Systems dump heavy rain on the Midwest in summer.

Flooding in the Desert

The Desert Southwest is not immune to flooding either, despite its dry reputation.

Part of the reason for the higher concentration of flood events in the Southwest is that the counties are quite large compared to the eastern states. Therefore, there is a greater geographic footprint for the flood events in those counties.

That said, flash floods are a concern from thunderstorms during the Southwest monsoon in summer. With much of the rainfall running off, rivers, creeks or dry streams (arroyos) can quickly fill and produce high water.

Future of the Northwest Passage

Commercial use of the Northwest Passage might be a small benefit of climate change. Billions of dollars in transportation costs could be saved each year if the passage remains open and reliable for a few months of the year. There will also be time and energy savings. Canada has the most to gain should the Northwest Passage become a viable shipping route. This will facilitate Canada's development of northern lands and provide an important economic and military possession if their claim to control is upheld.

Urban area

An urban area is the region surrounding a city. Most inhabitants of urban areas have nonagricultural jobs. Urban areas are very developed, meaning there is a density of human structures such as houses, commercial buildings, roads, bridges, and railways.

"Urban area" can refer to towns, cities, and suburbs. An urban area includes the city itself, as well as the surrounding areas. Many urban areas are called metropolitan areas, or "greater," as in Greater New York or Greater London.

When two or more metropolitan areas grow until they combine, the result may be known as a megalopolis. In the United States, the urban area of Boston, Massachusetts, eventually spread as far south as Washington, D.C., creating the megalopolis of BosWash, or the Northeast Corridor.

Rural areas are the opposite of urban areas. Rural areas, often called "the country," have low population density and large amounts of undeveloped land. Usually, the difference between a rural area and an urban area is clear. But in developed countries with large populations, such as Japan, the difference is becoming less clear. In the United States, settlements with 2,500 inhabitants or more are defined as urban. In Japan, which is far more densely populated than the U.S., only settlements with 30,000 people or more are considered urban.

Throughout the world, the dominant pattern of migration within countries has been from rural to urban areas. This is partly because improved technology has decreased the need for agricultural workers and partly because cities are seen as offering greater economic opportunities. Most of the worlds people, however, still live in rural areas.

One type of urban area is a town. A town is generally larger than a village, but smaller than a city. Some geographers further define a town as having 2,500 to 20,000 residents.

Towns usually have local self-government, and they may grow around specialized economic activities, such as mining or railroading.

The western part of the United States, for instance, is dotted with "ghost towns." Ghost towns no longer have any human population. They are full of abandoned buildings and roads that have been overtaken by shrubs and natural vegetation.

Many ghost towns in the western U.S. are the remains of "boom towns," which developed after gold and silver were discovered in the area in the 19th century. Economic activity boomed in these towns, most of it centered on mining. When all the gold and silver was mined, economic activity stopped and people moved away, leaving ghost towns of empty homes and businesses.

Growth of Suburbs

Suburbs are smaller urban areas that surround cities. Most suburbs are less densely populated than cities. They serve as the residential area for much of the citys work force. The suburbs are made up of mostly single-family homes, stores, and services.

Many city residents move to suburbs, a situation known as suburban migration. Homes in suburbs are usually larger than homes in cities, and suburbs usually have more parks and open spaces. Residents may move to escape the traffic, noise, or to enjoy a larger residence.

Large groups of Americans began to move to suburbs in the late 1800s. The invention of the streetcar made it possible for residents to commute from their homes to their city jobs.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. government enacted a program that gave home loans to returning war veterans. This created an explosion of single-family homes and increased the growth of suburbs across America.

The establishment of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 also contributed to the growth of suburbs and urban areas. The Highway Act created 66,000 kilometers (41,000 miles) of interstate roadway systems. The original plan for the highway system was for the evacuation of large cities in case of a nuclear or military attack. What the Highway Act created instead was suburban sprawl.

Suburban sprawl continues to be a phenomenon in the U.S. First, outlying areas of a city widen. Slowly, these outlying areas become more crowded, pushing the suburbs farther into rural areas.

Housing and businesses that serve suburban communities eat up farmland and wilderness. More than 809,000 hectares (2 million acres) of farmland and wilderness are lost to development every year in the U.S.

Recently, experts have tried to curb the spread of suburban sprawl, or at least create urban areas that are developed more purposefully. This is known as "smart growth." City planners create communities that are designed for more walking and less dependency on cars. Some developers recover old communities in downtown urban areas, rather than develop the next piece of farmland or wilderness.

States such as Oregon are passing laws to prevent unplanned urban sprawl. They have created boundaries around cities that limit the growth of development. Officials have created laws stating that the minimum size of a plot of land is 32 hectares (80 acres). This is to prevent developers from creating suburban communities. An 80-acre plot of land is too costly for a single-family home!

Other smart-growth communities are creating new types of development. Some have large amounts of undeveloped "green space," organic farms, and lakes.

Urban areas typically drain the water from rain and snow, which cannot collect in the paved-over ground. Rather than use drainage pipes and ditches, smart-growth communities create wetlands designed to filter storm runoff.

More city planners are developing urban areas by considering their geography. Engineers build structures that blend with their natural surroundings and use natural resources. White roofs, for example, reflect the suns rays and lower the cost of air conditioning. Homebuilders in urban areas as diverse as Los Angeles, California, and the island communities of Greece create homes and businesses with white plaster or tile roofs for this reason.

There is also a move toward preserving and maintaining more green areas and planting more trees in urban areas. Landscape designers often consult with city planners to incorporate parks with development.

White Flight
One type of suburban migration is connected to the history of racism in the United States. After World War II, many African Americans migrated to cities in the north of the country, such as Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago. Some white residents of these cities then moved to the urban areas surrounding the cities, a suburban migration known as "white flight."

Top U.S. "Non-Profit" Hospitals & CEOs Are Racking Up Huge Profits

The rising cost of healthcare is undermining the American Dream. Families who are working hard to get ahead now pay nearly $20,000 per year in insurance premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs for healthcare.

Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com looked at America’s healthcare system and found that so-called “non-profit” hospitals and their CEOs are getting richer while the American people are getting healthcare poorer.

Our new oversight report Investigating The Top 82 U.S. Non-Profit Hospitals, Quantifying Government Payments and Financial Assets specifically looked at large nonprofits organized as charities under IRS Section 501(c)3 with the mission of delivering affordable healthcare to their communities.

We found that these hospitals add billions of dollars annually to their bottom line, lavishly compensate their CEOs, and spend millions of dollars, which are generated by patient fees, lobbying government to defend the status quo.

Last year, patients spent 1 out of every 7 U.S. healthcare dollars within these powerful networks. Many are household names like Mayo Clinic* in Rochester, MN Cleveland Clinic*, in Cleveland, OH and Partners HealthCare in Massachusetts.

Here’s how executive compensation breaks down at the 82 largest non-profit hospitals using the IRS 990 informational returns and auditing the latest year available:

  • 13 organizations paid their top earner between $5 million and $21.6 million
  • 61 organizations paid their top executive between $1 million and $5 million
  • Only 8 organizations paid their top earner less than $1 million (which proves it’s possible).

This chart shows the income bands of top-paid executives in the 82 large charitable hospitals across America.

Banding the income of the top-paid executive in the Top 82 U.S. Non-Profit Hospitals. Most receive . [+] $1+ million packages.

Collectively, $297.5 million in cash compensation flowed to the top paid executive at each of the 82 hospitals. We found payouts as high as $10 million, $18 million and even $21.6 million per CEO or other top-paid employee.

Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Banner Health* paid out $34 million to just two executives. The president of Banner made $21.6 million and an executive vice-president made $12.4 million.

Consider other non-profit hospitals across America: the top paid “special advisor” and former CEO at Memorial Hermann* in Houston, Texas made $18.6 million. In St. Louis, Missouri, the chief at Ascension Health* made $13.6 million the CEO at the Kaiser Foundation* in Oakland, California made $10.7 million and $10.6 million went to the top paid executive of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare in Chicago, Illinois.

When summing the last four years of pay (2014-2017), each of these highly compensated executives - who made more than $10 million in 2017 alone - earned an extraordinary amount of compensation: Ascension CEO ($59.1 million) Kaiser CEO ($29.8 million) Banner CEO ($29.6 million) Advocate Health CEO, based in Downers Grove, Illinois ($27.8 million) Memorial Hermann Special Advisor/CEO ($27.3 million) and Northwestern Memorial COO ($15.3 million).

We reached out for comment, context, and feedback to each hospital and responses (noted by an asterisk) are posted at the base of this article. The cash compensation for each top-paid executive is summarized in the chart below.

Investigating the six most highly paid non-profit hospital CEOs in 2017 and the income earned in a . [+] four year period (FY2014-FY2017)

Even after paying lavish salaries, these non-profit hospitals had enough left over to add nearly $40 billion to their bottom-line.

We found that the assets, investments and bank accounts at these charitable hospitals increased by $39.1 billion last year – from $164.1 billion to $203.2 billion. That’s 23.6 percent growth, year-over-year, in net assets. Even deducting for the $5.2 billion in charitable gifts received from donors, these hospitals still registered an extraordinary 20.5 percent return on investment (ROI).

In 1970, healthcare amounted to seven percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Today, estimates suggest the soaring cost of healthcare will consume 20 percent of our GDP. That spending trajectory is unsustainable.

So, what are the charitable hospitals doing with their cash-on-hand? They are not reducing prices for patients.

Last year, these 82 hospitals spent $26.4 million on lobbying to defend the status quo. Because government money and charitable donations can’t be spent directly on lobbying, these hospitals used the payments from patients to lobby government to preserve their market position.

It’s time to embrace the transparency revolution and open the books on the real prices paid by patients for healthcare services. Let the open-government movement revolutionize the industry. Patients have a right to ask whether doctors are working for them or for the lavishly compensated hospital CEO.

Perhaps these hospitals don’t want you to see how much things cost, because they don’t want you to know how much they are making.

Our report suggests patients are caught in a monopoly. What they need is a market that features transparency, competition and choice – all of which will drive down costs and restore the doctor-patient relationship.

Note: listed below are responses to our request for comment from all charitable hospitals mentioned in this article. For further information, read our comprehensive oversight report.

Ascension provided a piece from their board chairman regarding executive compensation policy, posted here.

Banner Health: "The President and CEO of Banner Health leads one of the largest health systems in the country with more than 52,000 employees across six states. Operations include 28 hospitals, plus an employed medical group, an academic medical division, an insurance division, health centers and clinics, urgent care centers, outpatient Surgery Centers, Physical Therapy centers, imaging centers, retail pharmacies, home health services and more. The compensation for the President and CEO of Banner Health is established annually by the Compensation Committee of the Banner Health Board of Directors, which is comprised of independent outside directors. The Committee works with an independent compensation consulting firm that assesses the proposed compensation each year against several benchmarks, including compensation paid by a peer group of comparable nonprofit health care systems."

"Cleveland Clinic was founded as a nonprofit group practice with a mission to care for the sick and improve patient care through research and education. Any and all extra funds from operations are invested back into the health system to fund new research and education initiatives and to continue our long-standing charitable efforts. In 2017, our Community Benefit contribution totaled $906.5 million."

"Kaiser Foundation Hospitals’ and Health Plans’ objective is to provide reasonable and competitive compensation to all employees including senior management, relative to healthcare organizations of similar size and complexity. Our senior leaders are responsible for operating both a health plan and hospital and care delivery system, and as a result their roles and responsibilities are unique, larger in scope and impact, and different than those of nonprofit hospital executives."

"Mayo Clinic is a dedicated and mission driven nonprofit that confers strong community benefit through providing hundreds of millions of dollars in charity and other uncompensated patient care. Any excess revenue supports cutting-edge programs in research and education that benefit patients everywhere."

Memorial Hermann: "As CEO, Dan (Woltermandan) received a supplemental executive retirement package, which provided for an annual contribution for each year of service. When he retired at the age of 60 in 2016, he was fully vested in the benefit and elected to receive a one-time lump sum payment in lieu of an annuity. Dan’s retirement in 2016 culminated a 17-year tenure at Memorial Hermann in which the organization experienced exceptional fiscal and organizational success, including national recognition for providing safe, high-quality patient care, as well as unprecedented growth and expansion in Greater Houston. Dan’s employment contract, which aligned with overall healthcare industry standards, recognized his contributions to the organization and the community as a whole. "