25.02.2016 : Alex Edmonds

Building resilience to safeguard your business

The recent devastating effects of Cyclone Winston in Fiji reminds us of the importance of resilience.

The recent devastating effects of Cyclone Winston in Fiji has reminded us of the importance of resilience.

It makes us question how resilient our communities, or our businesses are? Where do our vulnerabilities lie when disasters hit? What exposures do we have that we should be trying to be resilient against?

Communities and businesses can be disrupted by many different 'shocks' and 'stresses'. Major shock events such as natural disasters are the first incidences that spring to mind. Disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones, flooding and landslides can cause a huge amount of disruption to communities, businesses and networks, both physical ones such as infrastructure and virtual ones such as connectivity to business and communication systems. Other events such as fire, or cyber-attacks can have equally disruptive outcomes. Often the push for resilience in the face of disasters tends to encourage people to look at a single event with a narrow field of influence.

Take Cyclones in the Pacific, or the seismic risk here in New Zealand. We have been involved in recent years in assessing the life safety risk to the occupants of our building stock. This is a hugely important task and one which as engineers we have a duty of care to get done. However, there may be other factors such as reliability of power supply or emergency systems that pose similar risks and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Ongoing stresses may be less dramatic than major shock events, but they can weaken the fabric of businesses and communities, or cripple the functionality of a building. Depending on your community or business, the cumulative impact of stresses such as climate change, poor governance, frequent power outages, deteriorating transport linkages, or cyber security breaches could be just as damaging as a major shock event. For example, frequent power outages in developing cities like Hanoi stifle business productivity, and also deter potential businesses from investing.

However, if you start to think beyond the immediate impact of specific shocks or stresses, understanding the vulnerability to a specific event is only one aspect of a resilient solution.

Consider the aftermath
How useable is your building after the event? Does it have additional vulnerabilities due to tsunami or landslide, or changed security settings in the region. Is it going to be vacant for months due to the surrounding infrastructure suffering significant damage? How are the staff/customers/residents or clients going to react to the event? What about the supply chain?

We have recently been involved in delivering mini-grid photo-voltaic systems in the Cook Islands and Tuvalu. A key feature of these systems was their ‘cyclone resilient’ building design, and the system's ability to provide sufficient back-up power supply for periods of poor weather. Most critical however, is that the solar photovoltaic (PV) systems do not rely on imported diesel for power generation, which is inherently vulnerable to unfavorable sea conditions, and damaged infrastructure and global markets.

Approaching the issue of resilience needs a wide, holistic view to fully comprehend the impacts and where mitigation will be most effective. With changing climatic conditions at both the global and local levels, and population centres expanding, both the frequency and impact of natural disasters are increasing. Recent events such as Cyclone Winston in Fiji, the Christchurch earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions in Indonesia highlight the impacts these events can have on, organisations and on our society. They remind us of the need for all parts of our society to be resilient.

Benefits of building resilience
Resilience is a holistic, all-of-system approach. The concept of resilience does not eliminate all risks from natural hazards, rather it aims to understand these risks and to allow for their pro-active management. It involves an acceptance of some risks, but with plans and strategies in place to mitigate the damage and ensure a quick recovery.

This approach aims to reduce the impacts, and allows for communities, infrastructure, businesses and systems to ‘bounce back’ more efficiently from significant events. Developing resilience requires an integrated and sustained approach that calls upon a wide range of expertise and local 'know how'.

What vulnerabilities does our business or community have that we should be trying to be resilient against? The process of building resilience starts with answering this question. Safeguard your business now and speak to us about how you can build resilience for the future.

About the Author

Alex Edmonds

Associate - Structural Engineering

Alex is an Associate Structural Engineer who specialises in helping clients manage their buildings and businesses from the effects of seismic events.

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