A chain of chains – seeing the bigger picture for resilience
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It’s a familiar saying that continues to hold true, particularly when it comes to the resilience of critical infrastructure for the delivery of goods and services.
However, many infrastructure networks are so complex and interlinked, that in reality we are looking at a chain of chains. And yet, as in all chains, the key to resilience lies in strengthening that weakest link.
The road to resilience
Every country in South East Asia has its own set of drivers, but there are shared aims too. Senior leaders in many organisations know that resilience is key to business continuity and quality of life, and that they need to be more resilient. The challenge is in identifying the weak links.
Inevitably, the road to resilience begins with understanding the changing nature of potential threats and therefore also the changing nature of resilience to those threats. Resilience is not about building a one-time, fix-all defence; it’s not about building stronger or taller. It’s much more about being able to absorb knocks and shocks and having the ability to bounce back faster.
One vivid example of this occurred recently in Australia during an intense storm. The lashing wind and rain resulted in led to reservoirs being contaminated and damage to a water treatment works. Large number of customers had their supply suspended, and then, once reconnected, had to boil drinking water. It took many days to get back to normal service.
The weakest link was the point at which foul water was able to enter the clean water system, so future investment not only needs to protect the upstream reservoirs, but also in planning for, or linking to, back-up or alternate clean supplies in case of future events. (Note: this also applies to the bushfires that plagued Australia in 2019/20, these contaminate water systems so resilience planning for fires needs to incorporate alternative water sources).
Seeing the bigger picture
Part of the work of The Resilience Shift is to encourage conversations, and particularly to invite owners, operators and maintainers of infrastructure assets to think about the bigger picture. This is about looking beyond organisational boundaries and more widely into the supply chain. Being able to understand everyone’s challenges makes it possible to see how interconnected everything is and then the opportunities open up for improved resilience.
To give another example, a recent workshop brought together representatives from an entire food-supply chain – the food producers, logistics transportation, port operators, shipping companies, investors, the department of transport, supermarkets and more. The event was designed to provide the basis for multi-stakeholder learning and collaboration. And the results clearly demonstrated that by understanding more widely, future collaboration would become easier.
Hypothetical exercises have an important role to play too in raising new questions and opening up new areas of thinking. The Resilience Shift has brought together representatives of a range of organisations to discuss their responses to a fictional disaster. Many participants had good systems in place, but almost everyone realised that their resilience strategies could be improved. Honesty is a critical component in resilience building. (Note: one way to test this is by taking part in the EARTH EX global resilience exercises that encourage organisations and individuals to role play an ‘as live’ crisis scenario and test out their resilience responses.)
Where best to invest?
With the bigger picture in view and once a thorough audit of potential risks and resilience readiness has been undertaken, then it’s time to decide where best to spend. Many organisations including Arup and The Resilience Shift are developing robust resilience investment tools to guide funds to enable decision-making with confidence.
While these tools are a work in progress, the challenge is to prioritise the competing demands. Should infrastructure asset owners, managers and maintainers focus their effort on improving quality of products and services for customers? Sustainability efforts for the overall business and regulators? Profitability for shareholders?
Clearly resilience is woven into all of these areas and more.
And so, to firstly truly provide resilience to our infrastructure systems we need to understand their level of inter-connection and inter-dependence.
To provide resilience, it is not just about making our systems tougher or more resistant, it’s also about being nimble and adaptable and quickly able to get back on our feet after receiving an impact. But to do so requires the development of investment tools that recognise the value of that ability to be nimble.