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Protecting your investments: 10 ways to reduce infrastructure risk and increase resiliency

Resilience is an attribute of a smarter planet, and it requires planning and adapting ahead of peril.

Resilience is an attribute of a smarter planet, and it requires planning and adapting ahead of peril. When communities and organizations alike are resilient, they’re made to withstand, recover quickly and prosper from increasing impacts of natural and manmade hazards or disasters, such as chronic stresses from climate change.

These ten tenets are a helpful public- and private-sector guide for reducing infrastructure risk and increasing resiliency for future disasters. CH2M has performed more than 1,000 disaster risk reduction and resiliency projects from development of plans to implementation of climate adaptation solutions.

1. Be aware of your location.

Risk evaluation is a natural part of capital investment decisions made by the public and private sector. It is less common to have a deep understanding of the potential disaster risks from acute shocks or chronic stresses. Threats are unique to each location. To manage risk effectively and build sustained resilience requires an understanding of location specific risk-reward trade-offs. To better prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster events, we must bring together the public and private sector as the need has never been greater. There is untapped expertise and decades of experience readily available to contribute and collaborate to these evaluations.

2. Know that hazardous events are on the rise.

The intensity and frequency of disaster events and chronic stresses to our environment are increasing around the world. And there is no shortage of global evidence — from increasing forest fires and growth of drought scenarios to more intense severe weather events, warming temperatures, sea level rise, earthquakes and more. Per the Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (ARISE), an initiative of the United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction, “recent years have seen a significant increase in disasters with economic losses running close to $300-billion a year. Urbanization is adding to this risk by further concentrating populations and economic activities.”

3. Factor in risk.

The risk of disasters must be a greater consideration in the investment, planning, development, design and building of infrastructure. Unless public and private investments become more ‘risk-informed’ and produce structures and environments that are designed to withstand current potential for acute shocks and chronic stresses, we will continue to experience, to much greater degrees, increasing loss of life and degradation to capital assets. This also means not building in certain high risk areas where mitigation is not possible.

4. Invest in the future.

An investment in disaster risk reduction through structural and non-structural measures is essential to enhance the economic, social, health and cultural resilience of persons, communities, countries and their assets, as well as the protection of the environment particularly in water quality and agricultural concerns. If targeted correctly, investments in risk reduction will reward businesses and governments alike with better financial performance over the long term, and serve as an attraction for urbanization, business growth and more prosperous, sustainable communities. An investment must consider small and large businesses, as well as governments, schools, hospitals and other critical care facilities.

5. Use public-private partnerships to your advantage.

With so many community needs and stresses on government resources, it is a challenge to create a compelling argument to invest capital today for an event that “may” happen tomorrow. However, we must call upon public-private partners to recognize this gap, not just in understanding of quantified benefits of disaster risk reduction, but also in the incentivising resilient investments.

6. Innovation is key.

There are pockets of innovation and breakthrough investments, but much more must be done. Activities such as low- or no-interest loans or tax incentives for those who retrofit infrastructure, or the use of ‘resilience or green bonds’ to finance risk-reducing interventions are important offerings. With the trillions of dollars to be invested in future infrastructure we must ensure that we create resilient infrastructure. Solutions must be feasible from an engineering point of view, must be affordable and ultimately politically acceptable.

7. Look beyond environmental risks.

Work remains to create the right enabling environment for risk-reducing investments. Much disaster risk reduction work focuses on vulnerable areas (e.g., coastlines), and with good reason. Flash floods are not limited to coastal environments, chronic droughts or extreme temperatures. Wildfires occur across continents. Beyond environmental risks, resiliency investment must consider disaster risk reduction for industries (e.g., tourism, supply chains) as well as resource development. Here, visionary private sector companies are leading this effort, with much to be learned from them.

8. Share best practices.

A systematic application of technology will deliver faster improvements. Items and strategies such as early warning systems, resilience analytics and innovative regulation in the form of updated building codes are needed and must be enforced. Lessons learned must be effectively shared across all sectors. Tools like the Disaster Risk Reduction Scorecard can be much more fully applied to identify priorities and needs to improve resilience.

9. Leverage private-sector experts to help you.

To date, too few private sector experts have been included in the disaster risk reduction activities at local, regional or national levels. Private sector companies in some cases are larger than many countries. Leveraging private sector expertise is essential to addressing these issues, and governments must take advantage of this resource.

10. Enforce governance.

The implementation of the Sendai Framework 2015-2030 does reference participation by the private sector, but now we must operationalize this intent. We must strengthen risk governance to sharpen the measurement and articulation of resilience, track improvements over time, accelerate public-private collaboration and share lessons learned. These efforts will help reduce losses and the impact of disasters on people, governments and economies to achieve the goals of the Sendai Framework.

As we look to develop disaster risk reduction plans for our communities, we must capitalize on the tools, resources and strategies available for implementing best practice and speeding the pace of delivery. It is important to engage the public and private sector as both parties have much at stake.

Learn more about CH2M’s resiliency work.

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