Are we disaster-proofing critical infrastructure?

Around the world natural disasters pose a significant risk to critical infrastructure. Whether it’s an earthquake, a hurricane, or a tsunami, the scale of long term devastation is directly related to how well a nation’s infrastructure is able to cope.

Essentially, in the wake of a disaster, can people still receive the clean water, food, shelter and energy they need to ward off starvation and disease.

As Australia nears the end of its annual cyclone and bushfire season it’s timely to consider whether the country’s critical infrastructure is up to coping with natural disasters.

On such a large continent extreme weather and seasonal events regularly place people in danger. Public safety and insurance awareness campaigns help to provide some degree of protection for individuals and families.

But is there enough of a focus on safeguarding those assets which, if they fail, can place whole communities at risk?

Roads, electricity, sewerage, communications – the maintenance and operational integrity of these assets is vital not only during a natural disaster but in the inevitable clean-up and recovery efforts which follow.

For instance, in 2017 there was a risk to critical infrastructure assets in the state of New South Wales (NSW). Households were asked to cut their electricity usage in a response to an unprecedented heatwave.

Unfortunately, in the same month, Sydney and parts of NSW suffered telecommunications outages to more than 32,000 services, also due to extreme weather.

When multiple elements of critical infrastructure are exposed to such stresses the risk to lives and livelihoods begins to multiply rapidly.

Fortunately, governments are beginning to understand the importance of implementing the right tools and systems to manage and safeguard their infrastructure assets.

At Tolerro many of our public-sector clients have told us they want the ability to comprehensively track and manage their assets. Our solution is IBM Maximo, an Asset Management Software product, which addresses emergency preparedness, citizen relationship management, asset depreciation, agility, budget, auditability and traceability.

Ultimately, we believe the best way to assist governments to verify the availability and disaster-resilience of public infrastructure is through data-rich tools and systems which can pinpoint the location, condition and history of their assets.

Late last year a discussion paper was developed by The NSW Office of Emergency Management and the NSW State Emergency Management Committee to give organisations the opportunity to provide submissions for consideration in developing new strategies for the next five years.

This approach is a great step in the right direction and timely that the conversation surrounding infrastructure preparedness is shifting from reactive maintenance to proactive long-term strategic management.