Putting a man on the moon, the approach needed for 21st century infrastructure

In this sweltering heat, our national infrastructure is being put under new stresses. With headlines of railway tracks buckling and air cooling units working overtime what does infrastructure resilience mean to people on the high street?

Thumbing the pages of the dictionary we find varying definitions but a middle ground states ‘the quality of being able to return quickly to a previous good condition after problems.’

What is a reasonable level of resilience that the wider public accept? Should we be talking about failure at all and how can communications support?

It could be argued that resilience is a hidden aspect of all projects. Something that is taken for granted with every journey on a motorway, flicking of the kettle or watching the countryside drift past on a train. In the race to the bottom to bid, undertake and run infrastructure projects, would the service users be prepared to pay for added resilience?

With increasing stresses on our daily lives including changing climates and increasing volumes of passengers how do we know when enough is enough?

It is time for that debate.

The UK has a well-defined planning system, where consultation with communities and stakeholders takes place around a scheme’s environmental impact and benefit case. Applicants are encouraged to consult ‘enthusiastically’ and many assets have educational programmes.

However, much more must be done to raise the awareness of the identification, testing and enhancements to scheme design and delivery that ensure it performs when infrastructure is put under stress.

This starts with informing stakeholders (road users, train passengers and energy consumers), to build an understanding of the complex issues, the challenges that put business continuity at risk and the innovations implemented to protect these structures.

But mobilising support is crucial.

Think about the perception around the headline grabbing delays to Crossrail or when train tracks get too hot? What would public sentiment be saying if clearly signposted updates had been shared of the potential for delay and the cost increases in real time? Would the public be more understanding if they knew in advance that in hot weather trains need to travel more slowly?

At the local level, as a result of increasing awareness of climatic changes and promotion of issues by activist groups, communities are now starting seek more answers around what happens and how infrastructure located near to them will react under extremes of performance.

It is now time projects start building support for their resilience measures to ensure that when an issue strikes the public is familiar with the problem and can digest information around the issue. In turn reducing the management time required to manage reputational issues when infrastructure resilience is tested.

But what does this mean for commuters stuck on a stuffy train or those grounded by drones buzzing over our airspace? Clear communications to build an understanding of the issues and the challenges that the sector is facing is a start. In the words of the Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission - the pathway towards becoming net-zero by 2050 will involve the next generation of infrastructure to succeed. This is the equivalent to the challenge of putting a ‘man on the moon.’ But we need the end users of infrastructure services to understand that resilience is being thought about and built into their day to day lives. They may never experience when that resilience fails – understanding that it might is key in protecting reputation if it does come under strain.

Written by Andrew Turner, Senior Account Director at Madano

Madano is a leader in working with clients who communicate across the infrastructure, energy and environment sector in the UK and globally, to find out more about how we can support your projects please drop me a line here.