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13_Feature_Image_Lisa_DicksonIt can sometimes be overwhelming to know where to start and how to translate the uncertainty of climate change into actual design criteria. At Arup, we approach this by breaking it into three steps: establishing the climate baseline, prioritizing risk, and then focusing on adaptation. Climate baselines are shifting, making the modeling process more challenging than it has ever been before. At Arup, we work closely with climate scientists to develop responses that are both robust and implementable.

Once we have determined what the climate is going to look like in 20 to 50 years in a geographical area, we work with the client to understand what the critical resources are and overlay the expected climate change impacts on these resources. The overall vulnerability is determined based on a combination of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. Exposure is the extent of the climate impact (for example, depth of flooding, number of heat waves, etc.). Sensitivity is an assessment of how well the asset would function with this exposure. And adaptive capacity speaks to whether or not there is redundancy in the system.

Once we finish those evaluations, we subject the more vulnerable resources to the next step: the risk assessment. The risk assessment examines aspects of probability and consequence. What’s the probability of failure; what’s the consequence of failure? And that’s what tells you the overall risk. In many cases, human health and safety and continuity of services are the primary things we consider when thinking about the consequences of failure for a particular resource or entity.

Consequence also lets us prioritize needs. For example, in comparing vulnerability, it might be that both a bike pathway and a substation are found to be equally vulnerable. However, in comparing overall criticality, it is more likely that there would be a higher consequence if the substation were to fail than the bike path? The substation then becomes more of a priority and area of focus than the bike path.

While we are highlighting the built environment here, we also analyze the natural and social environments, with a particular emphasis on vulnerable populations and public health. At the end of this assessment, we take the list of resources that have been identified as having the highest probability and consequence of failure and use that group as the focus for the last step: climate adaptation and preparation.

Dickson’s Resiliency Top 3:

1. NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program (pictured above): In this community-based, comprehensive planning process, Arup acted as the project manager and served as the technical liaison between the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and affected community members over a nine month process that resulted in five community reconstruction plans with recommendations in the areas of infrastructure, housing, economic development, natural and cultural resources, and community planning and capacity building. The resulting detailed list of projects is currently under proposal for federal funding.

2. Partners HealthCare: Arup is also conducting climate risk assessments across 30 of Partners’ healthcare facilities, including hospitals, community health centers, clinics, and research-based laboratories—performing assessments that involve the development of climate scenarios for sea level rise, storm surge, precipitation, temperature, and wind. Vulnerability assessments will determine the most at-risk operations within each campus.

3. NYC Office of Housing Recovery Operations: Through extensive design analysis of 15 building typologies, Arup is helping assist flood-prone property owners rebuild better, stronger, and more resilient housing. Arup was hired to assist the NYC Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations (HRO)—which assists property owners as they rebuild housing—to provide support and identify issues and challenges associated with rebuilding and retrofitting properties to withstand flood events.


Lisa Dickson is an associate principal in Arup’s Boston office with expertise in translating the risk of climate change into resilient solutions within the built, social, public health and natural environments, including economic considerations. She was a contributor to the World Resource Institute’s 2010 Public Sector GHG Protocol and aided in the development of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s (ISI) project rating system. In 2010, she was invited to Shanghai to comment on China’s 12th 5-Year Plan and present on the use of carbon markets to drive investment within the transportation sector.

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