Resiliency in Infrastructure Part 1: What it Means and Why Now?

by Paul Schmitz, on March 03, 2021

architecture-1837176_960_720 (2)What if our infrastructure could be more sustainable without increasing the costs to maintain it? It’s hard to argue against a solution that would accomplish these goals, however, the route to a more resilient infrastructure faces many hurdles. Accepting attractive, initial cost savings or the slow adoption of innovative technologies proven to extend design life will produce undesirable financial and ecological consequences. If we want to shift away from more costly, dated design methods we must first define the role of resiliency and understand its significance.

We gathered leading experts in the transportation industry, including government agencies, engineering & design firms, contractors, material suppliers, and associations for a weekly discussion to get their perspectives on resiliency in infrastructure. This week we asked them to define resiliency and its importance in their daily operations.

What does resiliency in infrastructure mean to you?

  • Jason Bird (FL Resilience Practice Leader - Jacobs Engineering)
    Reducing risk, enhancing reliability, and maintaining operational continuity in the face of all shocks and stressors the asset/system may face over the life of the asset. Planning for tomorrow, today.

  • Maria Lehman (Director U.S. Infrastructure – GHD, Inc.)
    Infrastructure that is planned, designed, and constructed to minimize service costs while being able to reduce the magnitude and duration of disruptive events.

  • Wendy McBay (Vice President Marketing – Tensar)
    Resiliency in infrastructure is the merging of knowledge and innovation to engineer and construct our roads and bridges to withstand the test of time, elements and mother nature. Resiliency requires thinking and acting differently to build infrastructure, not for us, but for future generations.

  • Berry Still (Transportation SE Unit Business Leader - Mead & Hunt, Inc.)
    Resiliency is preparing infrastructure to adapt to changing conditions. It requires not only careful planning and reliance on predictive tools, but an understanding of the need to continuously check in to 1) observe how the infrastructure is operating; 2) revisit predictive tools to see if predictions have changed through the useful life of the infrastructure; and 3) make adjustments if necessary. Ultimately, resilient infrastructure is designed to anticipate and withstand risk, minimize vulnerability, and maximize useful life. It takes into account both short-term and long-term threats.

  • Shahriar Najafi (District Pavement Manager Engineer - Virginia DOT)
    The ability to adapt and recover from a disruption. The disruption can be a natural disaster such as a flood event or a fiscal crisis like recession or major budget shortfall.

  • Dan Ginolfi & Howard Marlowe (Principals - Coastal Strategies)
    Resilient infrastructure means adequate engineering design built to robust metrics to withstand storms and other natural disasters of a predetermined magnitude. In addition, the designs should be simplistic yet complex enough to allow modifications to be made over time as necessary as current conditions change.

  • Brad Sheffield (Senior Geotechnical Engineer - CSI Geo, Inc.)

    Resiliency means designing infrastructure not only to withstand current risks, hazards, and threats but to plan for the design life of the infrastructure and future hazards that may arise. With environmental and physical hazards increasing in intensity and frequency it is important to be cognitive of resiliency at the onset of a project to be able to incorporate and balance costs through the design cycle of the project as opposed to resilient components to be tacked on at the end of the project where options tend to be more of a temporary impediment as opposed to a more incorporated preventative measure. 

What is the relative importance of resilience at your agency or organization?

  • Kevan Stone (CEO & Executive Director - National Association of County Engineers)
    Very important, if for no other reason than as an important cost-cutting endeavor. Resilient infrastructure, ideally, would require less major maintenance on roads and bridges as a result of natural disasters.

  • Bryan Mulqueen (EVP, Director of Transit & Rail - Gannett Fleming)
    Gannett Fleming seeks to deliver resilient solutions in everything we do. We have adopted the concept of design for both resiliency and sustainability in our values. It represents our commitment to clients to deliver solutions that address today's needs and the conditions and requirements of the future.

  • Bethany Carl Kraft (Senior Program Manager – Volkert)
    Volkert provides both traditional hard infrastructure as well as nature-based infrastructure design solutions. In this context, resiliency is an important element of designing projects that perform as intended both in the present and in the future, when conditions may be different than they are today.

  • Robin Seidel (Resiliency Architect Project Manager - Weston & Sampson)
    Weston & Sampson has made resiliency a priority in our organization. It is one of our fastest-growing focus areas.

  • Patrick Marchman (Climate Resiliency Project Manager – Kleinfelder)
    High - Kleinfelder is investing in a climate resiliency practice and has built a track record of projects and clients.

The road to a more resilient infrastructure starts by defining and prioritizing its role within your organization. The next step is educating key stakeholders on what they could gain – or lose – by not implementing resilient design practices in their infrastructure development. In Part 2 we discuss the hurdles facing this initiative and steps to influence key stakeholders to rethink their approaches.