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Vulnerability to Infrastructure Failures

11 August 2005

Specialists Note Vulnerability to Infrastructure Failures

New Zealand needs to achieve a paradigm shift in the way major infrastructure is planned and managed if it wants to have world class networks that are resilient under pressure, experts warn.

Speaking after an international conference in Rotorua, specialists in infrastructure resilience say New Zealand should focus on improving the performance of interconnected systems such as transport, energy, telecommunication and financial services.

Dr George Hooper, Executive Director of the Centre for Advanced Engineering (CAE), says technology is a double-edged sword. “Many of our most vital services, such as EFTPOS, border control and traffic management, have become highly complex networks which depend on each other,” he says, “and yet our level of planning does not acknowledge their inter-dependence.”

He says the two-day gathering of practitioners for Resilient Infrastructure 2005 has underlined the need to develop new strategies to make the built and human infrastructure more resilient in the event of disruption.

“New Zealand needs to define infrastructure far more broadly so that communities can be empowered to deal with adverse events themselves.”

Hooper says greater resilience can be achieved through a range of responses, including longer planning horizons, information sharing protocols, and planning for inter-operability. He says specialists in infrastructure resilience advocate a top-down approach, through more integrated policy and regulation, and also a bottom-up approach which allows communities to develop local solutions for recovery in the event of a disaster.

“We want to see network owners and planners thinking in terms of 30-year plans, rather than five years, and we want to see far more collaboration among policy makers in both central and local government. One of the downsides of technology becoming so pervasive is that infrastructure development becomes increasingly specialised, which results in expertise being driven deeper into silos which are more and more narrow. This in turn is affecting our ability to collaborate and be adaptive in the event of a technical failure or a natural disaster.”

Hooper says there is now strong recognition, following this week’s forum, of the need to do things differently. A series of workshops is planned for network owners and government agencies to begin exploring what structural changes are needed to move resilience planning to the forefront of infrastructure asset management.

About Resilient Infrastructure 2005 Resilient Infrastructure 2005 (Rotorua, August 8-11 2005) is the first New Zealand event to look at the ability of communities as a whole to survive disasters and network disruptions. It deals with building resilience into our built and human infrastructure, including natural, economic and social capital.

About CAE CAE is an independent-think tank and research facilitator associated with the University of Canterbury and funded by grants and sponsorships. CAE's mission is to advance social progress and economic growth for New Zealand through broadening national understanding of emerging technologies and facilitating early adoption of advanced technology solutions.


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