Critical Local Infrastructure Resilience

Description and Timescale: The project, Resilience through Innovation: Critical Local Transport and Utility Infrastructure, is funded through a Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPSCR) award for cross-disciplinary feasibility accounts (CDFA). This project ran between 2010 and 2012.

Project summary: The physical infrastructure that facilitates the transport of people, freight, waste and utility services, and thus provides the essential support to civilised life, is under threat from numerous sources: deterioration through (often extreme) ageing, adverse ground chemistry, surface loading or stress relief due to open-cut interventions; severely increased demand; ever changing (different, or altered) demands; terrorism; the effects of climate change; funding constraints and severe natural hazards (extreme weather events, earthquakes, landslides, etc.). Such vulnerability, and the need for resilience in the face of such threats, is recognised widely. This study sought to explore radically different ways of conceptualising, designing, constructing, maintaining, managing, adapting and valuing the physical infrastructure to make it resilient no matter which threats are manifested or how the future develops. In this context resilience referred to the symbiosis existing between infrastructure, management systems and end users.

Recent years have witnessed a shift to a more holistic concept of resilience that combines the physical (both built and natural) and socio-political aspects of resilience. This change has been crucial because the socio-political and managerial aspects are arguably as important to the attainment of resilience as the physical aspects; resilient engineering also demands a more resilient infrastructural context with regard to the professions and the structures and processes which govern engineering activity. This research explored the engineering and social dimensions of resilience research needed to bring about radical changes in thinking and practice for an assured future in the face of multiple challenges. The two core resilience themes to be addressed by this project, Bespoke Local Utility Infrastructures for Resilient Communities and The Role of Transport in Societal Resilience, lie at the interface of engineering, spatial planning and social science, from which the feasibility studies to address key challenges will emerge.

The project aimed to deepen transdisciplinary research by overcoming the tension that exists between the engineering focus on solutions and the social scientists concern with problems by developing realistic solutions to local problems. This required exploration of the interface between four communities of practice: engineering and physical sciences, social sciences, private firms and local government.

 Lead partners: The research team drew from five major research groups at the University Birmingham, drawn from across the engineering, social and geographical sciences, all of whom are addressing core themes of infrastructure and resilience. The overall team is led by Chris Rogers who is supported by Jon Coaffee, John Bryson and Chris Baker.

Supporting partners include: The team is supported by innovative thinkers drawn from the stakeholder community, both practitioners and policy makers. These ‘users’ come together in a series of ‘Practitioner Forums’ to further and shape the ideas of the research team.

 Key outputs

  • Rogers C.D.F., Bouch C.J., Williams S., Barber A.R.G., Baker C.J., Bryson J.R., Chapman D.N., Chapman L., Coaffee J., Jefferson, I. and Quinn A.D. (2011) Resistance and Resilience – Paradigms for Critical Local Infrastructure – Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers: Mechanical Engineering,  Vol 165 (2), 73 –83.

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