Engineers need to move from the current ‘predict and prevent’ paradigm to an approach that prioritises the creation of resilient communities.
So argues Jo da Silva, who leads Arup's International Development practice, in her address to the ICE’s International Brunel lecture series: 'Shifting Agendas: From Response to Resilience – the role of the engineer in disaster risk reduction'.
In making the case for engineers to embrace a more holistic understanding of risk, Jo echoes David Singleton, leader of Arup's Planning practice, in his 2003 Brunel lecture ‘Poverty Alleviation: the role of the Engineer’.
Why focus on resilience?
The word 'resilience' is increasingly referenced in the context of disasters.
The scale, frequency and severity of natural disasters have risen progressively over the last 20 years. In 2010, 263 million people were affected by disasters. Experts predict that climate related disasters could affect up to 365 million people by 2015, a 40% increase in 5 years.
With increasing urbanisation the number of people living in cities by 2050 will be two thirds of the population, and much of the growth will be in cities which are vulnerable to major climate events.
This has enormous implications for the role of engineers who have, over the past century, played a vital role in mitigating the effects of natural disasters by designing structures that can withstand extreme events and infrastructure projects designed to keep nature at bay.
Building resilience: the evolving role of the engineer
Building resilience places emphasis on anticipation, preparedness and recovery rather than prevention, and the inherent ability of the system (be it a community, business or city) to respond and adapt to disturbances. Resilience can only be achieved over time as a result of multiple actions and interventions, as well as the gradual accumulation of knowledge which changes behaviour.
Research carried out by Arup for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 2011, defined the characteristics of a safe and resilient community as: good health; knowledge and education; reliable services and robust infrastructure; diverse livelihood opportunities; healthy ecosystems; the ability to organise and make decisions; and access to external assistance. There are therefore multiple ways in which planners, designers, engineers and other specialists can contribute to building resilience.
Resilience is initially a difficult concept to grasp – but so too was sustainability. Jo argues that just as we have learned to accept the challenges posed by an increasing population living on a finite planet, we must rise to the challenges posed by the increasing risk of disasters.
How Arup is contributing
Arup-developed tools like SPeAR® (Sustainable Project Appraisal Routine) and ASPIRE, and our work with The Centre for Sustainability Accounting (CenSA) can help governments and businesses take a holistic view.
In our partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation on the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) we are providing programme management support, technical assistance, knowledge management and dissemination.
We also work with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group in recommending and implementing meaningful and sustainable climate-related actions locally that will help address climate change globally.
The Brunel International Lecture
The ICE established the Brunel International Lecture in 1999 in memory of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Since then a variety of topics ranging from infrastructure and technology for the third millennium to sustainable development and poverty alleviation have been covered by eminent engineers chosen to deliver these lectures. Previous lecturers from Arup include David Singleton (Poverty Alleviation: the role of the engineer (PDF, 5MB) and Peter Head (The Ecological Age).