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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

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Read the second in our series of Smart Infrastructure Blogs highlighting the themes and pressing policy challenges discussed at the recent Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) and Cornell Program in Infrastructure Policy (CPIP) hosted UK-US workshop ‘Funding, Financing & Emerging Technologies in Infrastructure to Improve Resilience, Sustainability and Universal Access’. The report from the workshop will be published and shared later this year. 

In this Smart Infrastructure Blog, Dr Kristen MacAskill, a contributing expert in resilience at the UK-US workshop and Assistant Professor in Engineering, Environment and Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge, calls for decision-making for our critical infrastructure systems to be more fluent in resilience. Dr MacAskill’s interest in the value of resilience comes from first-hand experience – her hometown is Christchurch in New Zealand, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2011.

The blog, titled ‘Forward planning – making resilience a certainty in an uncertain world’, cites various data points indicating exposure to and costs of disasters are dramatically increasing around the world and highlights the inadequacy of traditional approaches used to establish the basis for standards of acceptable levels of safety and provision of service for our critical infrastructure that have looked to past events and experience. Dr MacAskill writes: “The world is rapidly changing – climate change is leading to more frequent extreme weather events, rising temperatures are affecting biodiversity, urbanisation is accelerating, and new emerging technologies are shaping the way we live and work. Our experience of the past few decades no longer provides a sound basis to inform what the future will bring – we need a shift in our thinking.”

Recognising that we can’t predict the future has implications for how we make decisions, and we need to recalibrate some of the ways in which we make decisions which have historically been based on our ability to quantify risk in some way and prioritise investment based on likelihood. Dr Kristen MacAskill, Assistant Professor in Engineering, Environment and Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge

Setting out the pressing need for greater resilience for our critical infrastructure, due to the “intricately complex and interconnected nature of our infrastructure systems that can lead to cascading failure”, the blog considers the relationship between our unknowable future and traditional risk management: “The increasingly complex world we live in is experiencing events that have not been given sufficient forethought, leading to consequences that have not been foreseen. Recognising that we can’t predict the future has implications for how we make decisions, and we need to recalibrate some of the ways in which we make decisions which have historically been based on our ability to quantify risk in some way and prioritise investment based on likelihood.”

The role of communities among the stakeholders progressing resilience in the built and natural environment is key. Dr MacAskill concludes: “The process of building resilience requires everyone to be at the table and for everyone to have a voice. We need to integrate resilience in our everyday thinking and conversations and identify where we can highlight these issues when we are planning our projects, engaging with our communities, and making decisions that will affect the shape of our towns and cities, places and planet for generations to come.”

• Read the Smart Infrastructure Blog ‘Forward planning – making resilience a certainty in an uncertain world’ by Dr Kristen MacAskill here.

Dr Kristen MacAskill presents Resilience Engineered’, a three-part series commissioned by The Resilience Shift on some of the most pressing challenges associated with 21st Century infrastructure systems development, with the concept of resilience as the underlying theme. Watch the series at https://www.resilienceshift.org/resilience-engineered.

 

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