Financial, land planning, policy and infrastructure risks need to be addressed in tandem.
Peter Higgs, President, IPWEA NZ
The Thirty Year New Zealand Infrastructure Plan was released in August 2015. One year on, the National State of Infrastructure Report 2016 showed that good progress is being made in the delivery of infrastructure which is critical to the national economy.
But more still needs to be done for a resilient and coordinated infrastructure network. And the recent events of the Kaikoura earthquake underscore that.
It is not about simply building more stuff, but how we can better manage and better utilise existing infrastructure through a range of actions including demand management and more mature asset management.
Maintaining and improving these assets requires billions of dollars of investment each year. However, across New Zealand, we currently collect data in different ways, or do not collect the right data to make informed decisions. In some cases, important data isn’t captured at all.
National metadata standards
In 2014, Wellington City Council, Auckland Council, Christchurch City Council, Auckland Transport, NZTA and IPWEA NZ led the development of national metadata standards for New Zealand’s road network.
It was obvious that this work needed to be harmonised across the other major groups of infrastructure – roads, waters and buildings. These are critical pieces of infrastructure to all New Zealanders and improving how we manage them will deliver significant economic, social and cultural benefits.
Treasury provided funding for LINZ and MBIE to work with local councils and central government agencies to develop national metadata standards for the 3 Waters (potable, waste and storm) and for residential and light commercial buildings.
Draft standards have now been developed for capturing, describing and storing data for these assets. Consistent quality data will enable better (reliable) evidence-based investment decision-making.
Thirty Year Infrastructure Plan
And this links with the 2015 Thirty Year Infrastructure Plan which was developed collaboratively between central and local government and industry. The vision for the plan is that by 2045 New Zealand’s infrastructure is resilient, coordinated and contributes to a strong economy and high living standards for New Zealanders.
Developing nationally-consistent metadata standards for managing New Zealand’s critical infrastructure is key to achieving this vision.
Pipeline Renewal Decision Guidelines
In continuing the theme of collaboration across the sector, there are other bodies of work being carried out – such as the Pipeline Renewal Decision Guidelines – a collaboration between the Quake Centre, Water New Zealand and IPWEA NZ. While some of this work has been triggered as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes it is not just about natural disasters.
It is about integrating risks and uncertain futures into the decision-making process to maintain levels of service, and how communities can collectively identify and respond to these risks and uncertainties.
These are all contributing to a new national approach to resilient infrastructure asset management.
But when disaster strikes
In New Zealand we are blessed to live in an island paradise. We are also blessed, sitting as we do on the edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, with many natural disasters – earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes – and storms and flooding. We feel the impacts of climate change. You name it – we’ve got it.
Through legislation and actively involved communities, we also have Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) processes in place to deal with these.
CDEM processes incorporate the 4Rs – reduction, readiness, response and recovery – with the main focus traditionally on response then recovery. The ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
We have also focused on building more things to protect ourselves from events – engineering our way out of a problem. The trouble with this approach is that structures will fail and there will always be a larger event than designed for.
Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of storms, flooding and sea level rise. What was once a one in 100-year event, by 2050 could be a one in two-year event.
Stop banks and flood works will no longer afford the level of protection that prompted the original investment decision.
We’ve tried to introduce mitigation of natural hazard risks into our town and land planning but the messages “don’t build in a floodplain” or “don’t build near the coast” have not been heeded.
Land development is seen as a short-term matter – what’s the rate of return on investment? Land development is conflicted between owner rights and the public good (and public cost) in the long term, and hampered by short-term political cycles.
National Disaster Resilience Strategy
We have recently begun a move to managing natural hazard risks through a National Disaster Resilience Strategy. While significant, this change still falls short of real resilience as it maintains a “siloed” approach to disasters. It doesn’t deal with all the risks communities face – technology disruption, financial crises, aging infrastructure, renewals funding, aging / changing demographics.
Our uncertain future includes technology changes, smart controls, smarter cities, and data collection and management. We are well connected. But what if the power goes out? What if connections fail?
We need an integrated approach to address all risks – financial, land planning, policy and infrastructure – and how communities can respond to changes and events.
It’s not just about assets. It’s the activities they’re used for to deliver the services our communities need.
Resilience is about being able to shift from disaster response and engineering solutions to managing the cost of risk, and then to ensuring service delivery and performance. It’s about having the ability to bounce back – and bounce forward – after disruptions.
We need to build community resilience through a de-risking strategy, the idea being to:
- deliver on safer communities;
- focus on community aspirations to deliver a guarantee of service performance;
- focus on services delivered rather than assets used;
- shift development investment away from short-term business opportunities; and
- integrate risk mitigation with policy, land planning, financial and infrastructure strategies.
So how do we do this?
We help communities take ownership of their future. Many communities are developing resilience strategies. Initiatives developed after Christchurch’s earthquakes include:
- community resilience at a local and individual level;
- integration of land and financial planning with infrastructure;
- risk-based infrastructure renewal programmes;
- financial risk management; and
- metadata standards – decision-making framework.
Waimakariri District Council now overlays its infrastructure renewal programme with criticality, vulnerability and risks associated with disaster events. Under traditional approaches, many components were programmed for replacement based on remaining life. These have been reviewed and other assets given priority based on criticality or vulnerability to the overall network.
The council is also reviewing its risk strategies and exposures to deal with the financial implications of major disruptions.
While these initiatives are driven by organisations, communities ultimately need to take responsibility and own these decisions.
And that can only happen if we, working in the public works sector, actively engage with our communities. We need to be freely providing them with the information and science in an understandable form and working collaboratively with our communities to develop resilient solutions for the future.
When disaster strikes, it strikes us all. There’s no cavalry coming over the hill. We are all in it together.
This article was first published in Local Government Perspectives 2017.