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The Covid-19 virus has made this a very relevant question for the months ahead. Many will say the water and energy suppliers are the essential industries. True, but that’s not the whole story.

For example who makes the chlorine for our drinking water, or the oxygen for the hospital system. Is food production essential (needs chemicals and fertilizers)? What about the fuel for the trucks to transport all of these materials?

Let’s go a little deeper. Remember the song “I know an old lady that swallowed a fly…? Here’s the industrial version….I know a company makes the steam, to supply to the company that makes the sodium hypochlorite, to supply to the makers of our drinking water, so it can be chlorinated, so we can safely drink it? Take out the supply of steam in that chain, and no chlorine, so no tap water. Ok, leave the steam in, but take out the company that makes the chlorine itself. No water. Leave everything in place, but make diesel fuel for the trucks unavailable. Same result in all instances – no tap water.

The point I am making is that what seems obvious ‘ain’t necessarily so’. All of the industries in that supply chain are essential to the production of the end product.

So what’s the problem? you might ask. Take a look at the schematic. Do you see how difficult it would be to take a company out of the matrix?

It is not possible to simply shut an essential service industry down without directly affecting upstream and downstream material or product suppliers and receivers. Shut the steam supplier down, itself a major hazard facility for reasons other than steam (the steam is merely a process by-product), and tap water supply becomes threatened and eventually stops when chlorine stocks run out. Do it to one, do it to all.

Skilled industrial process workers are required to keep these industries operating safely. Those making the decisions about how we achieve virus containment need to be very aware that worker availability is critical to the ability of these industries continuing to deliver product. Think about this in terms of possible suburban lockdown responses.

I’ll write about the broad sources of risk to critical product flows, and the reasons behind general mitigation strategies next week.

The product transactions I’ve described are part of the synergy relationships that exist in the Kwinana Industrial Area, and the schematic I’ve attached shows just how interconnected the flows are.

KIC Industrial Symbiosis

The diagram is the fourth in a series of diagrams spanning more than 20 years. You can find the series in a report entitled Western Trade Coast Integrated Assessment (2014).