Standards, Design and Regulation for Infrastructure Development, Operations and Maintenance

Standards play an important role in disaster risk reduction and creating resilience. In order to be effective, they need to be rational, need to be enforced, and need to be updated regularly to keep pace with the evolving understanding of natural hazards and advancements in engineering technology. International standard setting bodies such as the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), develop and provide such standards for countries to voluntarily adopt. Infrastructure standards under these bodies are regularly updated and are already incorporating resilience elements, towards achieving the targets of the Sendai Framework. For example, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) agreed in 2015 (within the context of the Sendai Framework) to work with ISO to develop new standards for disaster proofing cities.

National frameworks for design and construction standards need to be strengthened through better regulation, state-of-the-art technology, incentives (financial and non-financial) and innovation. These frameworks should incorporate the structural engineering aspects of physical infrastructure as well as for Operation and Maintenance (O&M) of this infrastructure. Lack of O&M standards can increase the impact of hazard events or even trigger new ones; for e.g. urban floods due to inadequate maintenance of sewage systems.

Key questions:

  1. Are emerging risk factors such as climate change manifestations being considered adequately while developing standards? What are the regulatory gaps that must be plugged to address these risks better?
  2. Are the standards for operation and maintenance adequate for existing levels of disaster risk, without even taking climate change into account? Are they being suitably updated?
  3. How can enforcement of standards be improved? How can compliance be improved in cases where state capacity for enforcement is limited?
  4. How can regulation of professions play a role in improving compliance with standards?
  5. How can infrastructure be made “safe to fail’ (also part of the ‘build back better’ principle) so that in case of extremely rare events the infrastructure fails, downstream risks are minimised?

Recommendations from IWDRI 2018

Manual of practice for end users

A bouquet of state of the art standards must be made available for end users of information on resilient infrastructure. A more comprehensive manual maybe co-created made by experienced practitioners, government representatives and researchers to collate systematic knowledge in the field that provides necessary guidance to practitioners. The Coalition provides an important platform to capture lessons learned, best practices and their dissemination towards creating a required pool of knowledge.

Adopting a lifecycle approach for adaptive standards

Past statistical trends are no longer a good guide for future standards. Hence, “stationary, non-time variant” prescriptive standards must give way to evolving “adaptive” standards to continually tackle changes from climate risks and other externalities that impact the life span of infrastructure. The adaptive design framework may lead to “real options” that are pre-decided responses to changes in the infrastructure project environment.

Standards for soft infrastructure

The "systems approach" must attribute due importance to soft infrastructure. This underpins the vital knowledge base, supporting institutions and capacity development needs for technical specialists.

Interdisciplinary standard setting

Appropriate standards may provide the first line of defence against shocks and stresses. However, standards permeate through disjointed phases of procurement, design review and failure analysis. The “design phase” of any project is critical to enable comprehensive inclusion of good standards for resilience.

A multidisciplinary design phase that includes land-use planning, climate science, disaster management in coherence with the engineering sector can make for better informed decisions underpinning investment in resilient infrastructure.