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Photo: Courtesy of AECOM

Resilience is increasingly important to incorporate into infrastructure design and construction. The United States had 212 disasters from natural events between 2005 and 2014, second only to China with 286 events. The capital losses from the US disasters were, by far, the highest in the world. The dollar losses approached $500B.

Making resilience a priority in the design of our infrastructure assets is gaining importance.  While definitions of resilience vary, there is growing acceptance that human settlements must withstand, recover from, and continue to prosper in the context of increasing impacts from acute shocks and chronic stresses. Today, 50% of the population resides within cities, but it is projected to increase to 70% by 2050. This necessitates creating a more resilient infrastructure for society.

To achieve improved infrastructure resilience, it is important that building codes be reviewed and updated to reflect the conditions in which facilities are expected not only to survive but also to maintain their functions. In the aftermath of damaging events, the concept of “building back better” is extremely important because it sets a resilience pathway for the future.

Conditions have changed in the past 35 years with a significant increase in disasters of all types: geophysical (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic activity), hydrological (floods, landslides, subsidence), meteorological (blizzards, severe/tropical storms), and climate-related events such as extreme temperatures, wildfires, and droughts.  These events are likely to continue to increase into the foreseeable future. In 2015, the reinsurance company Munich Re reported 1,060 natural disaster events compared to less than 400 events in 1980.

In this context, the importance of building codes for both new construction and repair/retrofit has never been more crucial. They can be an important part of the solution. And this is not just for economic viability; it is also critical for community safety. Given the increasing hazard events in the US and worldwide, our building codes must be visionary, robust, even cutting edge.

New building codes, with better standards as a minimum, must be developed and enforced. If infrastructure is going to be rebuilt in impacted locations, it must be built back better. Infrastructure projects must be constructed for resilience tomorrow, the next day, and for years out. Without robust building codes, every project plan should be evaluated for its resilience.

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Incorporating water sensitive urban design features in all elements of the cityscape, at large and small scales, can create meaningful benefits. These include natural rainwater treatment and enhancing biological diversity. There is more than sidewalk planting—it is an integral part of the SFPUC “living machine” that treats rainwater and greywater from buildings for reuse inside. Photo: Courtesy of David Lloyd

Sands’ Resiliency Top 3:

1. San Francisco Public Utilities Commission: SFPUC is implementing a multi-billion-dollar investment in the city to upgrade its wastewater infrastructure in response to climate change, as well as to improve service. AECOM played a key role on the Mayor’s Sea Level Rise Committee, developing storm surge inundation maps that are now the recommended standard for all sea level rise planning within the city and county.

2. Australian Department of Defence: AECOM was commissioned by the Australian Department of Defence to define the potential risks to assets as a result of climate change. AECOM performed detailed modeling of coastal erosion and flooding from storm surge and extreme rainfall and also supported Defence’s internal engagement by developing site-based visual summary sheets and animations for use in stakeholder workshops and internal branch briefings.

3. Adapting to Climate Change Application: This tool from AECOM helps to understand risk and increasing resilience and was created to identify potential future impacts of climate change on assets and operations and find ways of effectively responding and adapting to these impacts. ACCA has been used to carry out analysis on buildings, transportation, water, energy, and environmental projects. AECOM, in partnership with IBM, developed the Disaster Risk Reduction Scorecard in 2014 based upon the UN’s Ten Essentials for Disaster Risk Reduction. The Scorecard received the ND GAIN 2015 Prize. AECOM is working with CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) to develop a strategic approach for cities and companies regarding climate change. Further AECOM developed Sustainable Systems Integration Model (SSIM) to provide a holistic approach to measuring environmental, social and economic sustainability.


Dale Sands is Global Director, Metro Regions and Climate Adaptation Services for AECOM’s flagship environmental business. Sands, with experience in 65+ countries, completed service as vice chairman of the United Nations’  Private Sector Advisory Group for the UNISDR (2013 to 2015), and was a board member from 2011 to 2015.

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