IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 73

sufferers [28]. Triage in extreme situations also requires
decisions to be made regarding evaluation, and the overall objective of aid delivery that can lead to ethical breaches. One strategy to address the vulnerability is to design
socio-technical systems toward avoidance of situations
that have the potential to result in ethical breaches. In the
context of microgrids in disaster situations, a general view
of avoiding constraints that force disaster management
agents to make moral choices would also reduce the likelihood of decisions that lead to ethical breaches.
The rights of human beings to receive humanitarian
assistance is a primary principle that recognizes the
need for the management - and reduction where possible - of the constraints impacting contact with affected
populations [28]. Effective delivery of humanitarian
assistance to populations affected by disasters involves
activities that occur prior to (preparation), during (immediate response), and well after (reconstruction) the
occurrence of a disaster [31]. Arguably, microgrid design
decisions are categorized as preparation activities, and
can influence the constraints placed on the disaster
relief efforts. If designed properly, the microgrid capability to remain operational will facilitate the delivery of
more services, thus enabling a greater capacity of disaster relief efforts and resources to be mobilized.

Robustness Implications
A microgrid's ability to provide electricity independent of
the grid when disasters occur, exemplifies robustness.
From the perspective of the disaster relief hub, a
microgrid provides some fortification, which is integral to
maintaining continuity of services [23]. Considering the
microgrid as a component of the hub, with the ability to
maintain service when the grid is inoperable, embodies
one mode of fortification within the design.
A technology adds robustness to socio-technical systems if they increase system insensitivity to disasters. In
this context, the microgrid creates greater capacity of
the system to resist the influence of disasters on system
performance (see Figure 2). Such robustness is exemplified in the Sendai Microgrid in Japan. In the aftermath
of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, the Sendai
Microgrid maintained operation despite catastrophic
damage to the grid [32].
Understanding that disasters impose constraints on
the flow of aid, there is an expected increase in the likelihood that disaster management efforts may be forced
to make difficult choices pertaining to aid distribution.
In many instances these choices may violate ethical
norms or be guided by ethics that are not viable in
disaster situations. Such conditions elevate the possibility that disaster management staff will make choices
that result in ethical breaches. Similarly, extant moral
guidelines, developed in nondisaster situations may
DECEMBER 2019

∕

encounter moral ambiguities in extreme situations. The
microgrid, as a hub for the delivery of aid, also adds
capacity to the disaster management effort. In the case
of the Sendai Microgrid, electricity supply to a local hospital was maintained postearthquake and several elderly patients, reliant on ventilators for life support were
successfully accommodated while most of the district
remained without electricity [32].
Such capacity can also be expressed in terms of permissible volume of aid delivery or more effective communication with aid sources. Microgrids add value to the
socio-technical system by disallowing the constraints
imposed by the disaster. In doing so, decisions made during disaster management activities are more straightforward and thus less likely to result in ethical breaches. That
is, a more unconstrained flow of aid will reduce the need
for aid providers to make difficult aid rationing decisions.

Latent Benefits of Microgrids
As part of a socio-technical system, microgrids have
built-in capabilities that only add value when certain
conditions create a need. Under extreme circumstances, such as that experienced in disasters, the capability
of a microgrid to maintain service while the grid is rendered inoperable results in not only a reduction in loss,
but a net benefit. Such limitations in the possible outcomes of disasters have an inherent value, both as a
distribution channel for aid and a vehicle for the removal of constraints that can lead to ethical breaches.
Antifragile technologies allow socio-technological systems to exploit uncertain environments and achieve
better performance (i.e., benefit from stressors). A technology can add robustness to a socio-technical system if
it allows for greater insensitivity to the performance degradation effects of disasters. In most cases, the scale of
realized value in disaster situations would more than
counteract the loss incurred by adding antifragility. However, the design elements that add so much value during
disasters, may be considered redundant, nonvalue adding, or even a waste in nondisaster situations. Indeed, as
more time passes with no disasters, the confidence in
the nonoccurrence of a disaster increases [16]. As such,

Service
Provision

Grid
Inoperable

Microgrid
Inoperable

Grid and Microgrid Microgrid
Operational
Operational

100%
Microgrid
Robustness

No
Service
Disaster
Severity

FIGURE 2. Microgrid robustness.

IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

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IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019

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