Resilience in the spotlight at FIDIC webinar

09 Jun 2020

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The 17th in the series of FIDIC Covid-19 webinars took place on Tuesday 9 June 2020 with an event looking at how the construction and infrastructure sector can become more resilient and be better able to deal with future crises, writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

“How can the infrastructure industry improve its resilience to deal with future global pandemics?” was attended by 267 attendees and explored how the industry needs to learn from its experience during the pandemic and better structure design, operations and infrastructure to be resilient against future major crisis situations.

Moderated by FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin, the speakers at the event included Manuel Valencia, vice president of Técnicas Reunidas Internacional in Spain, Tracey Ryan, Aurecon’s New Zealand managing director, Cosmin Tobolcea, general manager of Pro Toby in Romania and Dan Saville, UK infrastructure sector leader at Arup. As always, FIDIC president Bill Howard was also in attendance from Boston, USA.

Opening the event, FIDIC president Bill Howard reminded attendees that before the pandemic hit, talk about resilience in the industry was specific to climate change and it was important to stress that these were issues that have not gone away. “We still have billions of people without sanitation or drinking water and engineers are crucial in addressing these challenges,” he said. “As we emerge from the pandemic, these issues will rise in importance along with an increased pressure to speed up delivery of projects that the world needs. These will include health facilities and other social infrastructure that are so important in improving our preparedness for future crises,” said Howard.

Manuel Valencia, vice president of Técnicas Reunidas Internacional in Spain, said that he was happy to report that none of the projects his company had been working on had been stopped during the pandemic, only delayed. “The pandemic was an ongoing learning process,” he said and different parts of the world were continuing to be affected in different ways. Valencia said that he thought that the ability for people to travel again would be crucial to organisations getting back to something approaching normality.

Tracey Ryan, Aurecon’s New Zealand managing director said that the crisis there had seen much greater collaboration between government and industry. Covid-19 had tested business continuity plans but also increased innovation, she said. “The experience has shown that we can be creative and experimental and our use of digital has increased massively,” Ryan said. The current crisis has accelerated the industry’s digital transformation which had been a good thing for the sector, she said. “A sense of urgency has also driven innovation in our industry and we have seen more creativity and have a more agile sector as a result. We really don’t want to go back to how we were before; we need to build on the benefits for the future,” said Ryan.

Dan Saville, UK infrastructure sector leader at Arup, said that industry resilience was important not just at times of crisis but for normal times too. He said that the crisis had exposed the weaknesses of our connected lives with dense living arrangements across societies that had created a fertile ground for the spread for the pandemic. The design response to Covid should be better planning and “de-densification” of cities with more flexibility to facilitate remote working and a more efficient use of transport, Saville said. From a workspace point of view, he also highlighted that there was an urgency to look at what we all go back to when we return to work. “Do we want a computer-laden battery-hen style office or something different altogether? he asked. Leadership was also crucial in resilience and there were lessons to be learned from the way that different countries had responded to the pandemic, said Saville, who singled out New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Adern as an example of someone who had come to the fore as a leader during the crisis.

Cosmin Tobolcea, general manager of Pro Toby in Romania, thought that consulting engineers were having to deal with resilience in a new circumstance as a result of the virus. As chair of the FIDIC Future Leaders, he said that he was involved in discussions with young professionals from around the world on how the industry needed to change in the future. A future output from these discussions would help to inform and educate the industry for future challenges, he said. Tobolcea highlighted digital transformation and people, “our human asset”, as being crucial to the industry going forward. “Good staff will help the industry to become more resilient in the future and having the right people in place who are trusted and who trust your business is the best way of improving resilience,” he said.

The discussion raised a number of issues including the key question of keeping people safe and society functioning efficiently in future. The use of space was critical in this regard and contributors to the online discussion said that transportation vehicles, public spaces, shared spaces and office spaces would need to be remodelled. To stay safe and healthy at the same time, health and safety needed to be incorporated into daily life – at home, kindergartens, schools, offices, shopping areas – all of which are likely to face new patterns of moving around, so resilient infrastructure, reshared space designs and reconsidered industrial designs of all shared equipment and devices would be crucial going forward.

Summing up the webinar, FIDIC president Bill Howard, said that the industry and FIDIC needed to do everything it could to encourage collaborative discussions with key players across the infrastructure sector, including with governments and opinion formers, to ensure that the industry emerged from the pandemic in the best possible shape to face the future and the new normal.

The final FIDIC webinar in the series is “A pandemic that changed the world - lessons to be learned by the global infrastructure sector” which takes place on Thursday 11 June at 12 noon CET. This must-attend event will reflect on all the lessons that have been learnt over the previous 18 events that have attracted thousands of attendees from around the world. Please register your place today as we expect a big turnout for this final event in our Covid-19 webinar series.

Click here to book your place on the ‘Lessons to be learned . . . ’ webinar.

Click below to view a recording of how the construction and infrastructure sector can become more resilient webinar below.

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