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Civil Engineer blog

How the ICE is helping engineers get a seat at the table

08 June 2023

David Smith, chair of the sustainable, resilient infrastructure advisory board, reflects on the Risk Reduction Hub event at the UN.

How the ICE is helping engineers get a seat at the table
David Smith at the UN HQ in New York City, USA.

Since the development of big UN frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, we rarely see UN agencies approach engineers to ask for our expertise on implementation.

Recently, however, I’ve been delighted to be part of a project which has encouraged the UN office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) to directly seek our input and participation.

This is all thanks to our work last summer on the Sendai Framework. It led to the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI), the ICE and the engineering community being invited to host a prestigious event in New York last month at UN HQ.

Infrastructure is the backbone of a safe, functioning and prosperous society.

It underpins implementation of sustainable development and it plays a vital role in the implementation of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience.

It’s a massive step forwards that this is being recognised by the UNDRR.

We can see proof of this in their official report for the Mid Term Review of the Sendai Framework, which cites engineers nine times, and infrastructure 71 times!

Representing civil engineers at a UN event

The ICE and Stantec supported ICSI in performing a consultation with the global engineering community last summer.

Together they submitted a report to the UNDRR entitled The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030: Reflections and insights from the Global Engineering Community as a voluntary contribution to the Sendai Framework Mid Term Review.

I wrote a blog post about the findings of this report, available to read on the ICE website.

Read the blog

The event last month was part of the prestigious United Nations General Assembly high-level meetings in New York City.

I was delighted to represent the ICE and Stantec at a session entitled ‘Accelerating implementation of DRR and resilience in infrastructure’.

Through our voluntary contribution to the midterm review process, and the following event, for the first time the global engineering community has a strong voice and position on the Sendai Framework.

Engineers are at the table taking the initiative, offering solutions and forming partnerships.

The event at UN HQ brought together diverse voices and perspectives from infrastructure stakeholders all focussed on the same goal.

It assembled representatives from governments, asset owners, and stakeholders from across the infrastructure lifecycle to discuss how the recommendations and calls to action from the review can be progressed in the context of infrastructure.

This event also spotlighted how a new resource, the ‘Handbook for implementing the principles for resilient infrastructure’ can be used by different stakeholders.

Applying systems thinking to disaster resilience

We heard from my fellow ICE Community Advisory Board member, Abhilash Panda, who is head of financing resilience, de-risking investment and infrastructure resilience at the UNDRR.

Abhilash urged the importance of creating new infrastructure through the inclusion of system thinking. For example, by thinking about biodiversity as a solution and ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction.

We were also honoured to host speakers from India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Kamal Kishore, and the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Victoria Salinas.

Kamal spoke about the huge capacity gap for imagining infrastructure and risk in a systemic way, and Victoria spoke about the ability of infrastructure to enable community resilience and service the underserved.

Another esteemed speaker was Lieutenant General Inam Haider Malik, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority of Pakistan.

He stated the need for engineers and designers to develop non-standard templates for areas such as deserts and mountainous areas, covering a number of risks and considerations for different economies.

He also spoke about the role of academia in DRR and resilience infrastructure solutions, such as helping to find local materials.

My contribution

I chaired one of the event’s three sessions which had the guiding question of ‘what is the global engineering community doing to take action?’.

Here, I stressed that engineers must be equipped to drive net resilience gain.

We need more coherent guidance, more consistent requirements.

Currently, in a lot of cases, action is optional.

Engineers are well placed to find solutions, and have technical expertise, but must work across sectors to integrate softer skills and facilitate multi-stakeholder participation.

UN Disaster Risk Resilience Hub Event
The event was part of the UN's General Assembly high-level meetings in New York City.

My session included a statement from the WFEO Committee on Young Engineers / Future Leaders Working Group for Climate Action (SDG13).

They called for further engagement of youth in decision-making processes within governments to ensure infrastructure planning and implementation are responsive to the needs of the current and future generations.

Other interesting contributions at the event:

  • Case studies of New York-based projects which have integrated disaster risk reduction and resilience as core multi-disciplinary values across the entire infrastructure lifecycle (NY MTA; NYC Department of Design and Construction & Capital Program NY EDC).
  • A new academic approach called the Convergence of Complexities which can address cascading systems that are growing more integrated (Northeastern University College of Engineering).
  • Work ongoing by NGOs to support women to be engaged in construction, giving insights on how to approach infrastructure that is responsive to the needs of grassroots women (Huairou Commission).
  • The importance of community engagement and inclusion in resilience plans (AECOM & Columbia University).

The UN event was hosted by the ICSI, in partnership with the ICE, World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), and Resilience First.

You can read the engineering contribution to the Sendai Framework Mid Term Review, and the event will be written up into a report with best practice case studies on implementation.

It will become available on ICSI’s website in the coming weeks.

  • David A Smith, senior vice president, director of strategy at Stantec