As a variety of challenges cast uncertainty over the future of Australia’s infrastructure, it is now more important than ever to develop comprehensive resilience strategies for our assets. Here, Chief Executive of Infrastructure Australia, Romilly Madew, outlines key ways asset managers can mitigate risk and plan for greater long-term resilience.
As Australia’s infrastructure chief, Romilly Madew’s role is to understand the broader picture of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Having observed unprecedented risks from shifts in technology, the economy, user preferences and climate change, Ms Madew believes Australia’s assets are facing a period of unique uncertainty, impacting how they are managed now and into the future.
For Ms Madew, the benefits enjoyed during Australia’s infrastructure boom — larger and more complex networks, greater international trade, the uptake of new technologies — are set to bring new challenges for asset managers, including around Australia’s ever-increasing digital networks.
“Digital connectivity is changing the way infrastructure services are delivered,” Ms Madew said.
“However, as the complexity of networked systems grows, so too does the potential for failures and disruptions that are more difficult to predict and more pervasive in their impact.
“Technological change is also impacting consumer demand, placing some assets under increased strain or making others no longer fit-for-purpose.”
Ahead of her keynote presentation at the 2019 Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure Conference, taking place 20–21 August in Sydney, Ms Madew said Australia’s greater exposure to global markets also poses economic risks.
“Competition from growing and developing Asian nations can cause uncertainty in demand for domestic supply chains and freight hubs, while changing trade conditions could impact our infrastructure networks.”
Having led the Green Building Council of Australia for 13 years, Ms Madew also knows better than most the significant risks brought on by more severe, unpredictable climate conditions.
“Much of our existing infrastructure faces new and challenging conditions, such as higher temperatures, changed stream flows, rainfall, water availability and soil conditions, more intense bushfires, more extreme winds, and rising sea levels, causing coastal inundation and erosion.”
Are our assets resilient enough?
Despite the mounting challenges facing the sector, Ms Madew said Australia’s resilience strategies provide limited guidance for Australian asset managers.
“Planning for resilience requires a comprehensive risk assessment, and an understanding of the potential social, economic and environmental costs of outages, damage, disruption or failure,” she said.
A common challenge is a lack of information about the scale of risks, their impacts and the costs of addressing them. This is particularly important in a rapidly changing environment, where risks are shifting in nature and severity.
“Understanding the scale of potential threats, their impacts and the costs of addressing them is therefore critical to proactively respond to both short and long-term risks to infrastructure assets and networks.”
Infrastructure Australia’s forthcoming release, the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, calls for clear, publicly available guidance for the infrastructure sector on how to manage risk and plan for greater resilience in the future, reflecting new dependencies and technologies such as the Internet of Things, blockchain and drones.
The audit will highlight how anticipating and mitigating against ever-changing risks to infrastructure is becoming more difficult as assets and networks become more interdependent and complex.
It is clear that these changes and increasing pressures mean that infrastructure projects must meet new standards of sustainability, security and resilience. Ms Madew outlined a number of key strategies for asset managers to prepare for future conditions.
“Planning for 2020 and beyond must involve comprehensive resilience strategies that reflect whole-of-lifecycle benefits and costs, and these considerations need to be fed back into the planning, design and operation of assets and networks.
“Building and operating assets more efficiently can minimise the impact of infrastructure on the local and broader environment and reduce the total footprint of structures over their asset lives.”
Ms Madew noted it is significantly more cost-effective to build with risks to sustainability, security and resilience in mind, rather than try and mitigate it later on.
“Looking to the future, we should embrace the opportunity to lead the world in applying sustainability-enhancing approaches to Australian infrastructure assets and networks.”