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7 ways engineers are key to disaster risk reduction and resilience efforts

13 March 2023

David Smith, chair of the sustainable, resilient infrastructure expert community, breaks down findings from a recent ICE and ICSI report.

7 ways engineers are key to disaster risk reduction and resilience efforts
The Sendai Framework is undergoing a formal mid-term review. Image credit: Shutterstock

While we strive for net zero and sustainable, low carbon solutions, the impacts of climate change are already being felt.

Recent climate-related disasters make this abundantly clear.

We’ve known for a long time that mitigation and adaptation efforts are vital for tackling these impacts. However, the latter is often overshadowed by the former.

This is why the Sendai Framework, working hand in hand with the well-known UN SDGs and Paris Agreement, is such an important document. It has a primary focus on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience.

This year marks the midpoint of the framework, and it’s undergoing a formal mid-term review. The International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI) ran a multi-lingual consultation with support from the ICE to gather the views of over 200 engineering practitioners and experts from across the globe.

These were collated into a report, The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030: Reflections and insights from the Global Engineering Community and fedback for the review.

The following recommendations highlight how the engineering community can bring a significant contribution and help accelerate Sendai Framework implementation and resilience.

1. Collaborating across sectors

We desperately need more multi-disciplinary, cross-sector collaboration among experts to tackle complex challenges.

When we cross-pollinate across our expert groups, we can make fewer, more comprehensive and much better assessments of risk.

This means bringing together think tanks, societies, and advisory groups from all sectors.

2. Seeking input from diverse technical experts

Governments and investors should seek input from a diverse group of technical experts in the development of policies and projects. Of course, this includes the engineering community.

3. Building local capacity

We also need to work with local practitioners and build their capacity, as they are often responsible for project implementation, operations, and maintenance.

The engineering community has a role to engage more proactively and provide input into policy development and early-stage project development.

4. Educating on DRR and resilience

Engineers have a role to educate policymakers, practitioners, and the public on DRR and resilience concepts.

Educating and building capacity of policymakers is a priority, since they’re responsible for developing regulations and incentives to increase the uptake of DRR and resilience.

Enhancing capacity at local level is crucial and educational settings and professional development have a key role to play.

5. Embedding DRR and resilience in the project lifecycle

Engineers need to support the implementation of DRR and resilience throughout the project lifecycle. Public investment must be encouraged.

Engineers can and should bring in multi-national agencies to assist during the pre-development phase and enhance local capacities during the implementation stages.

6. Standardising resilience frameworks

We can also support in developing and implementing systemic risk and resilience frameworks and help to establish resilience-focused agencies and governing bodies.

It’s now urgent to develop policies, regulations, codes, plans or other mechanisms that encourage or enforce the uptake of DRR and resilience measures. Establishing bodies that oversee that these are implemented is also vital.

The development of these frameworks should be standardised to improve collaboration and reduce confusion.

There could also be frameworks that help foster a culture of resilience among the public.

7. Increasing awareness of and investment in new technology

Technological advancements for data collection and analysis have resulted in improved risk understanding and management.

However, we need more awareness and understanding of what technology can do, as well as more investment to accelerate development and uptake of new technology.

Pushing the envelope to enhance DRR and resilience

Methods and solutions that address systemic impacts, capture additional benefits and incorporate the effects of climate change need to be developed.

This will require deeper collaboration among experts, local practitioners, and communities (particularly vulnerable ones).

This will allow us to better understand and assess wider long-term benefits and integrate them into policy and governance processes.

Meanwhile, technological advancements can push the envelope of traditional risk assessments to include resilience thinking and deal with uncertainty, systemic complexity, and long-term approaches.

This will all lead to better infrastructure decisions that enhance DRR and resilience.

Input paper to the Sendai Framework Mid-term Review

Through this report, we take stock, identify emerging issues, uncover context shifts, and build coherence with other frameworks.

This will allow us to better address the systemic nature of risk and as such realise regenerative and sustainable development.

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