6 Steps towards improving infrastructure resilience

The island of Ireland's transport networks and services are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather events and human attack and could benefit from increased protection, write transport planners John Humphreys and Beatriz Martinez Pastor.

 

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Unpredictable weather events are having a negative impact on the economy. This was shown during Storm Emma in February 2018 when the majority of ROI’s transport network was shut down for almost a week. This caused significant losses for the ROI economy from business to education, and restricted access to services. Since extreme weather events like Storm Emma are more likely to occur due to the influence of climate change, it is increasingly important for the island of Ireland to develop strategies to prepare and mitigate their effect.

At the same time, as the world becomes digitally connected, our exposure to hacking increases and cyber-attacks can impact more people. So resilience preparedness should not simply consider the impact of extreme weather events, but also the possibility of network disruption from cyber crime.

Connected problems require converged solutions

The changing urban and infrastructure landscape has created the need for holistic, industry-wide solutions for identifying and managing risks. Resilience is not a one-dimensional or static issue and a significant disruption will exploit any existing vulnerability. For these reasons, and because we do not know the nature of all future threats, it is important that we build adaptive security and resiliency into infrastructure as early as possible, ideally from the start.

For this reason, three phases of analysis are required when considering resilience:
  • Before the event: develop measures prior to the disruption to reduce the negative impacts.
  • During the event: take steps to protect infrastructure during
    the disruption.
  • After the event: develop mitigation strategies to achieve a swift recovery.

Turning adversity into opportunity

As any risk manager will attest, risk cannot be eliminated altogether. However, transportation organisations can become better at planning for adaptation and mitigation strategies. The goal should be to manage risk effectively and to understand at what level to mitigate, transfer or even accept some risk. Building plans and preparedness needs to be part of building confidence in the future for all of us.

While it’s not possible to predict or avoid all hazards or threats, they can be managed. A strong resiliency plan can reduce the risk and impact of an event and speed the recovery, which dramatically reduces the cost in terms of physical, social and economic loss. In building a plan, we suggest six steps towards improving resilience.

 
WAITING IS NOT AN OPTION — START SMALL OR START BIG — BUT START NOW.

1/ ACT NOW

There is no time like the present. Whether creating new infrastructure systems and networks or upgrading existing assets, the earlier resilience is considered, the more effective, efficient and economical the solutions will be. Ideally, discussions start at concept stage, making it possible to achieve resilience and security by design throughout the project.

2/ THINK BROAD

An effective resilience plan must integrate across the physical and logical (also known as digital) domains. For example, most recent cyber-attacks are described as ‘blended’ attacks meaning they exploited vulnerabilities both in the physical and digital domains. The same systems approach also applies to major weather events such as hurricanes. In the US, one of the major issues in restoring power following Hurricane Sandy was the inability to connect to critical data centres necessary to restart sections of the grid.

3/ TEAM UP

In the same way that disaster has no respect for borders, effective resilience must cut across all silos and boundaries. From logistics departments and IT to asset and facility managers, everyone needs to participate and collaborate in finding the best and most innovative solutions.

4/ PRIORITISE

With broad agreement that spending on resilience protection is an investment, infrastructure owners must first identify and prioritise their critical assets and essential functions. This is crucial to ensuring that the limited resources are being spent to protect the highest priority assets and processes.

5/ ASSESS

Like any effective business plan: goals, objectives and metrics are needed to measure effectiveness. During the evaluation of resilience, it is important to consider the potential risks which could affect the infrastructure. It is vital that any business consistently evaluates potential hazards and threats then measures and evaluates its resilience plan, policies and procedures to determine their effectiveness at mitigating these critical hazards and threats. And the only constant is change. We know the threats are dynamic and while we may not be able to predict the nature or timing of the change, we must assume it will change and be agile and ready to adapt. This assessment is vital to evaluating the effectiveness of investments made in resilience and changes that might be necessary.

6/ TAKE ACTION

Consider the resilience protection already in place; there will almost certainly be opportunities to optimise and leverage what already exists. And remember that you may be able to share the costs with others who stand to benefit from future resilience investments. Waiting is not an option — start small or start big — but start now.

Increasing York Street Interchange flood resilience

York Street Interchange is a major junction in Belfast linking the city’s three busiest roads: Westlink, the M2 and M3. The Interchange lies within the coastal floodplain of Belfast Lough and is at risk of a one in 200 year flooding event or greater, which would not only overwhelm the interchange but also inundate Belfast city centre and significant areas of east Belfast, damaging property, affecting livelihoods and requiring substantial funding and co-ordinated recovery response from numerous local government agencies.We are delivering a £125–165 million upgrade of the interchange to address bottlenecks and improve traffic flow to this strategic route. However, the risk of flooding associated with various underpasses proposed within the scheme linking strategic traffic would not only threaten road users but also carry the risk of major remediation costs. The resulting downtime on the strategic routes would significantly hamper any major incident response. AECOM partnered with the Department for Infrastructure and Northern Ireland Rivers Agency to protect the scheme design with additional flood resilient solutions to protect the underpasses. These added measures will allow the underpass to remain accessible for emergency services following a major flooding event to assist in Belfast’s recovery.

Prioritising National Secondary Roads

National Secondary Roads (NSRs) account for almost half of ROI's National Road Network, or around five per cent of all of ROI's roads. While they may only account for 20 per cent of daily traffic on the country’s national roads, some NSRs cater for high volumes of traffic, while others are vital routes for people in rural areas who would be isolated without them; overall, NSRs are integral to the performance of ROI’s entire road network.We are working with Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) to understand the varying roles played by different NSRs, depending on what their users need. This work has identified those roads that need to be open all the time due to a lack of alternative routes, so that they can be targeted for investment to improve their resilience during adverse conditions. This will help TII make better use of its resources within a limited budget while improving long-term performance and resilience of NSRs.