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Posted on 27 April, 2018 by

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The engineer’s journey to resilience – what’s yours?

Xavi Aldea

How has resilience become a popular topic among engineers from different backgrounds? In our experience, engineers have followed different routes in their journey to resilience. Mostly, this is about broadening classic engineering approaches, breaking down ‘silo’ thinking and incorporating a connection with other disciplines – which, in many cases, are not necessarily close to engineering at first sight. In other words, engineers have had to think bigger in order to achieve their goals.

But what are the engineers’ goals? To put it simply, and according to the Royal Academy of Engineering, engineers ‘make things, they make things work and they make things work better’. They also ‘use their creativity to design solutions to the world’s problems’. In today’s world, the inherent complexity of infrastructure and urban systems, together with the added uncertainty arising, for instance, from climate change, raises a question on the classic boundaries of engineering, which are not enough to allow engineers to ‘make things work better’.

Breaking those boundaries, however, requires initiating a journey which can be quite different depending on the engineering experience and discipline that different people come from.

This journey begins in the top left of this diagram. This is what engineers have been taught in university – technology and safety.

Through their careers, engineers can travel through different paths which ultimately make them realise that resilience matters.

Path A:

A Civil Engineer who designs infrastructure and/or does quantified risk assessments. They become interested in resilience once they recognise future uncertainty and the limitations of sensitivity analysis/scenario modelling. In addition, they become aware of interdependencies between different systems, which adds more complexity to their usual risk assessments. Additional complexity can also be added because they realise infrastructure is part of a wider system, which includes people.  In our team, that would be Juliet Mian.

Path B:

A Civil or Structural Engineer who designs and/or plans infrastructure. They have already embraced Environmental Impact Assessments and Social Impact Assessments, and are comfortable with the role of engineering in sustainable development. In the next step, they also recognise people as part of the system, and understand the importance of equity in addressing global challenges. This means that they are already thinking in a holistic, integrated way, and they recognise that resilience is the way to approach this complex system. Because of their sustainability background, they are well aware of uncertainty resulting from climate change and planetary boundaries.   In our team, that would be Jo da Silva.

Path C:

Sustainability engineer who assesses the environmental impact of infrastructure by understanding how it connects with its surrounding environment. They have already embraced carbon footprint, water footprint, Life Cycle Assessment and/or Social Life Cycle Assessment and are comfortable with the role of engineering in sustainable development. In addition, they are also aware of the uncertainty resulting from climate change and planetary boundaries. The next step is adding the complexity of the 21st century infrastructure, which requires thinking in a holistic and integrated way, and recognising that resilience is a way to approach complex systems. In our team, that would be Xavier Aldea.

As long as you get there in the end…

In the end, we can probably say that all roads lead to Rome – incorporating complexity, uncertainty, vulnerability and essentially challenges and global change drivers of the 21st century leads to the need to expand classic engineering boundaries to allow engineers to continue to do their job, no matter where they started – and hopefully that will allow them to continue to make the world a better place.

What’s your journey?  Why not draw it and send it to us as an image so that we can see your path to resilience?

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