“The opposite of resilience is failure/collapse” – resilience round-table hosted by ASPI

Dr Paul Barnes is Head of Risk and Resilience at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). Based in Canberra, Australia, Paul is a risk and resilience specialist with over 20 years of experience both within government service and as a practitioner/academic.

Resilience round-table

The ASPI hosted a round-table on critical infrastructure on 4 November 2019 that brought together an eclectic group of Canberra-based officials and professionals to discuss resilience as a concept and a practical tool across socio-technical systems.

The round-table was led by Paul, and Jo da Silva, Arup Fellow and Acting Director of the Resilience Shift was invited, along with Kaitlin Shilling, resilience and sustainable development specialist, from Arup Australasia, to present the Resilience Shift and focus the discussion on the issues and challenges of critical infrastructure resilience.

Jo introduced resilience as a way to look at what happens if a system fails. How do you plan to survive and thrive in the face of that failure, regardless of the cause of the failure. It’s about looking at the system as a whole and what happens, rather than trying to identify specific risks. Her premise that “the opposite of resilience is failure/collapse” prompted much discussion from attendees. Participants also talked about how to align the science and engineering – what we know and what we know we can solve – with the reality that not all things can be solved. They also questioned whether there are limits or constraints on resilience, or if we require more transformational change.

Leading thinking on resilience for Australia

Dr Paul Barnes originally studied environmental science – epidemiology, toxicology and health impact assessment. His doctoral research, examining hazard and risk perception among firefighters, was closer to applied anthropology and included extended periods of responding operationally to actual emergencies with urban fire fighters, across day and night shifts. A wider context of the work was on how the fire teams dealt with danger. One major question was why did they run ‘into danger’, when everyone else runs away?

This spirit of enquiry has served him well over the years and he is now, with ASPI, focused firmly on pushing the boundaries of knowledge about risk and emergency management, and infrastructure resilience, including the related corporate governance and policy.

After working in both public and private organisations – his leadership roles have encompassed public safety, corporate risk management, and security policy – he chose to return to academia, teaching risk and crisis management over an extended period. He shakes his head at the lack of sophistication in the structure of how tertiary students, across a range of disciplines, are taught about risk and resilience and is keen to raise awareness of the subject, particularly the link with systems thinking and the vulnerability of complex infrastructure systems.

Paul believes society and its institutions must be more agile and resilient. In addition to his role at ASPI, he currently serves as a visiting Associate Professor with the Torrens Resilience Institute, a specialist research group at Flinders University, Adelaide, that aims to improve the capacity of organisations and societies to respond to disruptive challenges which have the potential to overwhelm local disaster management capabilities and planning. He also maintains adjunct roles in the Centre for Environmental Health at Griffith University and in the Engineering Faculty at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.

For the last four years, Paul has worked with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) where he established ASPI’s Risk and Resilience Program. ASPI is an independent thinktank established by the Australian Government in 2001 to provide advice for Australia’s strategic and defence leaders in support of more informed decisions on Australia’s future and broad national security needs.

The Risk and Resilience program seeks to deepen understanding of the benefits and challenges of using resilience as a central theme within effective disaster risk reduction and as a base-level design factor for critical Infrastructure systems and the continuity of essential services.

For example, Paul cites how Australia’s reliance on imported refined fuel and a lack of government-controlled fuel reserves can be considered a national risk. Paul highlights how Australia’s infrastructure is also vulnerable to geopolitical contexts and to climate change. Leading ASPI’s work on the examination of resilience in critical infrastructure systems and organisational vulnerability as well as analyses of broader socio-technical threats, Paul has written and presented on risk and crisis-management around the world.

Exploring what cities can learn from a case study of Darwin, Australia

Also highlighted during the round-table was a technical note on the resilience of the city of Darwin, and work done in partnership with the Darwin City Government and Northern Territory Government. This asked ‘Can Darwin be a resilient city?’ and explored how measures could be modularised and cut down, to create a set of solutions for a small city. Jo da Silva was one of the original leaders and thinkers behind the development of the City Resilience Index, and this report suggested that measures and diagnostics from the City Resilience Index and related work created by Arup and 100 Resilient Cities, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation could be effective in accelerating Darwin towards greater functional resilience.

Paul explained that Darwin is so far removed from anywhere that it has become used to being self-reliant. Since 1974’s Cyclone Tracy hit, it has improved building codes to be more resistant to wind and improved the reliability of a range of services. However, it is not a resilient city, being dependent on a single large water pipe for potable water and one electricity transmission corridor. Petrol and diesel fuel has to be tanked in from 2 ½ thousand miles away, and rural ground water extraction is challenging as the water table has dropped to 60 metres below the ground in many areas. The note explored the viability of the city and how a city could be more resilient by applying elements of the 100 Resilience Cities Framework, developing a toolkit for other cities to use.

Energy resilience in Australia – ASPI’s strategic studies

ASPI with Engineers Australia has published two reports in a planned series on resilience and engineering in essential socio-technical systems.  The first ‘The challenge of energy resilience in Australia: Strategic options for continuity of supply ’was published in 2017.

Paul highlighted this as complementary to work from Arup on its Energy Resilience Framework and from the Resilience Shift with its resilience primer on Electric Utilities.

The second report, ‘Designing for resilient energy systems: choices in future engineering,’ was published in October this year.

Launched by the Hon Trish White, National President and Chair of the Board of Engineers Australia, the intent of the latest ASPI report was to showcase the ideas of a selection of the current crop of Australian power engineers about the current transformation to renewable electricity sources and eventually enhanced resilience across essential systems.

Download the report here.

 

With thanks to Dr Paul Barnes.

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