Stepping back from the edge of disaster: capital planning for resiliency.

Author:Kavanagh, Shayne C.


In recent years, disaster preparedness has become increasingly important for local government officials. Most disaster preparedness efforts have emphasized reacting to a disaster quickly and effectively in order to minimize losses. However, recognition is growing that this is not enough. Rather than planning a response to failures of current infrastructure or systems, governments have begun to realize the importance of resiliency, that is, the capacity of infrastructure and operations to respond to and recover from emergencies. Resilient systems "reduce the probabilities of failure, the consequences of failure (such as deaths and injuries, physical damage, and negative economic and social effects); and the time for recovery." (1) Hence, resiliency makes the consequences of an extreme event less severe from the outset and reduces the time required to get back to normalcy,

The resiliency concept is best illustrated by the "resiliency triangle," shown in Exhibit 1. (2) The triangle represents an asset's capacity and the time required to resume full functionality after an extreme event. The objective of resiliency-building efforts is to minimize the size of the triangle for critical assets. For example, a fire station that is constructed using techniques and materials that go beyond normal standards could better withstand a hurricane than another fire station built to current standards. This would reduce the loss of functionality from high-wind damage. Consequently, the size of the triangle along the vertical axis of Exhibit 1 would be reduced. As another example, a government that maintains off-site backup of its critical information systems would be able to restore full functionality much more quickly, even if the original system was totally destroyed. This type of resiliency planning would reduce the resiliency triangle along the horizontal axis.


Transportation systems, public utilities, and public safety installations are essential to disaster mitigation, response, and recovery and are therefore high priorities when planning for the resiliency of public assets. As providers of these assets, local governments have a crucial part to play in building a more resilient nation. Building resiliency will not be easy, and the capital improvement planning process is the focal point for the careful preparation and investment required. The purpose of this article is to identify ways in which local governments might revise their capital planning processes to explicitly incorporate resiliency concepts.


Exhibit 2 summarizes capital planning for resiliency, The process has three phases: identifying needs, prioritizing needs, and funding. The rectangles depict the core activities in the process, while the gray, rounded boxes indicate critical supporting tools and techniques. The following sections describe each of the three segments in more detail.


A comprehensive asset inventory is the basis for assessing and bolstering resiliency, It identifies the government's assets and the condition they are in. This allows a government to determine what systems are in place, what new systems may be needed, and where asset condition may need to be improved in order to reduce the resiliency triangle's size.

An asset inventory that focuses on resiliency must be conducted using a cross-functional approach. An inventory is typically performed by public works personnel, with support from the finance function. Public safety experts also need to be involved, however, to assess the "criticality" and "vulnerability" of assets. While a resiliency triangle can be developed for any asset, the size of the triangle is more critical for some assets than for others. As a simple example, a water tower is more critical than a swimming pool. Naturally, most distinctions will be less clear. This is where a public safety expert's trained eye is indispensable. Public safety expertise also is needed to assess vulnerability. For example, a 911 call center is clearly critical. It may be extremely well maintained yet still be vulnerable. Perhaps it was not built to withstand the increasingly violent force of hurricanes that a costal community finds itself subject to, or maybe it is too accessible to vehicular traffic, making it vulnerable to a car-borne bombing attack or similar act. By distinguishing critical assets and recognizing and addressing vulnerabilities, resiliency efforts can be planned.


Asset inventory systems often incorporate a formal condition assessment or score. The asset inventory could also subjective scores for criticality and vulnerability. (See an example in Exhibit 3.) Ideally, a scoring system should be anchored or backed by criteria or principles that support...

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