Fostering Resilience-oriented thinking in Engineering Practice

Fostering Resilience-oriented thinking in Engineering Practice is a paper recently published in the Engineering Sustainability Journal of the Institution of Civil Engineering. The paper is a result of roundtables convened by Resilience Shift to discuss the resilience of critical infrastructure systems. It is one of a range of initiatives to help advance the application of resilience thinking in developing and managing critical infrastructure systems.

Engineers working on infrastructure projects are often required to focus on value for money and delivering on time. It can sometimes be hard for engineers to balance these priorities with their wider obligations to the communities the infrastructure serves. The resilience of the infrastructure being built – its ability to withstand shocks and stresses – can have a profound effect on the well-being of current and future generations but building in increased resilience can have cost implications. There is also a moral obligation to minimise the impact infrastructure has on the environment. Ensuring these obligations are met, while keeping projects within budget and time-schedule, can be challenging and that is why Resilience Shift convened these series of discussions.

The roundtables were held in the UK (London), USA (Berkeley) and New Zealand (Christchurch) and were intended to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders who would not typically have an opportunity to engage with each other. Participants included asset owners, council officers, health specialists, engineering design specialists, community leaders and academics.

Resilience roundtables

The discussions were wide ranging at all three roundtables, however the UK roundtable focussed on ports and their supporting infrastructure systems, the conversation in the US looked at the application of city-scale modelling tools, and the discussions in Christchurch reflected on the experiences recovering from the earthquakes there in 2010 and 2011.

The findings of the paper “emphasise that multi-agency coordination and collaboration is required to advance resilience thinking in professional practice and to move beyond traditional risk-based paradigms.”

Another key conclusion is that a lack of strategic oversight to coordinate response to resilience is a core barrier to the coordination of resilience thinking across organisations, but there is strategic and operational value in convening people from different organisations and sectors to explore infrastructure resilience.”

Dr Kristen MacAskill, one of the paper’s authors said, ‘many countries remain in an emergency response phase to manage the coronavirus crisis, or are starting to emerge from it. As we start to think more about a “new normal”, there is an opportunity to take a more coordinated approach to management of critical infrastructure systems. Underlying this is a need to be open to exploring how shocks and stresses present threats not just to the physical functioning of assets, but also to how they are managed. Through preparing for a range of possible futures, we are more equipped to deal with the reality that does emerge.

Fostering Resilience-oriented thinking in Engineering Practice The paper was authored by Kristen MacAskill, Francesca O’Hanlon, Peter Guthrie OBE from the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, and Juliet Mian, Technical Director, Resilience Shift.

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