The Disaster Management Virtual Conference was held on Wednesday 23 September, marking week 4 of the Critical Infrastructure Summit. 

Disaster Management was an important conference for the Summit and for Australia’s critical infrastructure sector in general. Last year no one could have predicted the extent of the disaster events the country would have to face in 2020.

We were fortunate to have Tony Histon, Transmission & Distribution Lead, Accenture Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, deliver the keynote presentation on achieving resilience through a new harsh reality, and then be able to stick around for an extended Q&A session to give delegates the chance to join in on the conversation.

Shifting mindset from reliability to resilience

Tony presented research that Accenture has conducted, speaking to several hundred utilities globally, to understand their ability to cope in the face of significant disaster events.

A big focus of the research was understanding the ways utilities think about risk; and a key finding was that many utilities are focused on planning for reliability, when they should be thinking about resilience.

In particular, Tony noted that this shift in mindset is becoming increasingly urgent in a world where there are more weather-related disaster events, and a growing need to adapt clean technologies in response to the effects of climate change.

Tony also discussed some of the ways organisations can move their focus to resilience, with the key factor here being increased system flexibility. A system cannot be resilient if it’s not flexible enough to bend and move in a constantly changing world.

In good news, Accenture’s research showed that utility leaders are aware that flexibility is a cost-effective means of improving resilience. However, more work is currently required to measure, value and incentivise resilience.

Tony’s key piece of advice for infrastructure owners charged with improving the resilience of their assets was to take a three-pronged approach – first, establish the foundations of resilience;  second, build the resilient network; and third, continue to explore emerging resilience services.

Preparing for future disasters 

Our keynote session was followed by an industry panel which focused on preparing for the next disaster and being ready for whatever is in store.

We were joined by Mark Cannadine, Manager Business Resilience, ElectraNet SA; Victoria Chantra, Associate Director – Environment, AECOM; and John Kilgour, CEO Civil Contractors Federation, Victoria.

John provided particularly interesting insights into how the construction industry is coping with the COVID-19 crisis. He noted that in general, within the industry, there is a greater willingness to comply with new measures when they’re introduced, such as mask wearing, social distancing, temperature checks and asymptomatic testing. 

This willingness to cooperate has been critical in allowing the industry to continue to operate – even at reduced capacity – through the various stages of the pandemic.

With the government having repeatedly flagged an infrastructure-led recovery as being a critical part of the economic recovery from COVID-19, John also noted that while there will be many opportunities within the construction industry, we will need to create pathways to get more skilled workers involved. This will be the subject of our panel discussion at next week’s Future of Infrastructure Virtual Conference.

Victoria was able to speak to the importance of ensuring sustainability is embedded into the heart of the work we do to rebuild in the years to come after COVID-19. Victoria pointed to a number of state government initiatives to ensure a sustainable approach is taken as cause for hope for the industry.

Mark meanwhile reflected that while there has been enormous change this year, that has brought with it opportunity. What we have learned this year, as organisations, is just how adaptable our people are. 

According to Mark, there is an innate resilience we’ve been able to tap into – but we need to support it if we want it to continue. The key steps moving forward for organisations will be identifying the lessons from the 2020 experience, learning from these, and then building them into our systems to truly develop resilience in our organisations.

There is only one week left of the Critical Infrastructure Summit. Join us for the last conference The Future of Infrastructure at 2pm on Wednesday 30 September. 

Register to attend Future of Infrastructure for free, or watch Disaster Management on-demand here.

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