Infrastructure projects that incorporate elements of resilience—the ability of a project or program to respond adaptively to threats such as storm surge or extreme weather and bounce back from disasters—are attracting new attention and challenging the engineering profession to design for a changing world.
As much of our infrastructure in the U.S. reaches the end of its design life and development abroad continues to soar, this is a critical and opportune time to rethink the way traditional infrastructure is designed and built. Governments are now teaming up with private industry and nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s) to ensure infrastructure is fit for the future. Numerous international, private sector and government sponsored initiatives now require developers to demonstrate sustainability, resilience and adapting to potential impacts of climate change in the project design.
One such example is the United Nations’ (UN) new effort. Last week Boston hosted the UN’s U.S. launch of the RISE Initiative, a new platform intended to bring together nontraditional stakeholders, such as the insurance industry and civil engineers to the resilience and financing discussion. Housed under the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the RISE Initiative seeks to ensure that infrastructure investments are risk-sensitive. That requires better transparency, coordination and information sharing among all players in infrastructure development, including policy-makers, engineers, financiers and insurers. Resilient projects may require developers to incorporate design elements that are more costly at the outset, but increase the durability of the project long-term. ASCE recently released a report on life-cycle cost analysis, which explores the benefits of considering the lifetime cost of a project, rather than just the initial cost to build it.
Following Superstorm Sandy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) increased its focus on making our infrastructure more resilient. It hosted a Rebuild-By-Design, a design competition in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation. The competition began by soliciting the best ideas for rebuilding in the Sandy-affected region. Teams then refined projects to ensure high levels of sustainability and resilience, with winning projects receiving grants for implementation. HUD recently launched a second competition, the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC) which is similar to Rebuild-By-Design, but open nationwide to natural disaster affected areas with $1 billion at stake.
The RISE Initiative and HUD competitions are just two examples of the strides being made to build infrastructure more resilient, and therefore better poised to bounce back after extreme weather events.