From Asset Resilience to Resilient Places and Communities

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The piece was co-authored by: Resilient Cities Network, Infrastructure New South Wales, Resilient Sydney and AECOM

City governments have multiple conflicting priorities related to shifting macro-economic trends and climate change while also creating safe and livable places for urban communities and businesses. The increasing frequency and intensity of climate disaster risks emphasizes the need for a resilience approach. City institutions and organizations are increasingly adopting a resilience approach to improve the safety and quality of life of everyone.

Integrating Resilience Principles into Asset Management Processes in Sydney

Sydney is the capital city of the New South Wales state and also the most populous city in Australia. The City of Sydney published the Resilient Sydney Strategy in 2018 which identified shocks and stresses such as flooding, bushfires, transport congestion, and a lack of affordable housing to have implications on their urban infrastructure. The Resilience Strategy recognizes there are over 100 organizations with some level of control in operating and managing key city systems which sustain lives and the local economy in metropolitan Sydney, including government, water, electricity, transport, telecommunications, emergency services, and food provision. Such complex governance is a challenge for connection, collaboration, and communication across these various organizations and limits the understanding of the risks that communities in the Sydney region face. Working together is key to the ability of the city to effectively address and mitigate these risks.

The Resilience Strategy thus seeks to break silos within the city government to tackle interconnected challenges together. One such challenge is the capacity of city assets to respond to and recover from shocks and stresses. The strategy calls for implementing resilience building activities in asset management for local and state government in Sydney and New South Wales (NSW). This is aligned with the New South Wales State Infrastructure Strategy released in 2018 by Infrastructure NSW, which recommends the development of a range of policies and tools to support the incorporation of resilience in decisions made throughout the infrastructure or asset lifecycle, optimizing its reliability and operational performance throughout its lifespan.

The essential role of assets within critical urban systems was also highlighted in A Pathway to Infrastructure Resilience, launched in August 2021 by the national government agency Infrastructure Australia. It recommended a whole-of-system, all-hazards approach to resilience planning that focuses on strengthening infrastructure assets, networks, and sectors – as well as, the place, precinct, city, and region that the infrastructure serves and operates within. Two advisory papers as part of A Pathway to Infrastructure Resilience were developed in partnership with the state government body Infrastructure NSW. These papers outlined a range of aspects including how to improve infrastructure resilience in the context of asset management planning.

Integrating resilience principles in managing assets requires a shift from focusing on the resilience of an individual asset or a portfolio of assets of individual organizations to viewing the broader contribution of assets to the resilience of a place or community. With this in mind, the City of Sydney through the Resilient Sydney program, Infrastructure NSW, and the Resilient Cities Network (R-Cities) collaborated on a pilot to develop the “Infrastructure for Resilient Places Framework” guidance. The framework aimed to provide more detailed guidance on integrating resilience principles into asset management processes, supported by Citi Foundation under the Leadership for Urban Resilience and Sustainable Development (LURSD) program.

Learning from the Network: Pittsburgh and Christchurch

Two R-Cities member cities stand out in their incorporation of resilience principles into asset management. Their case studies served as a helpful starting point to develop guidance for Sydney. The cities of Pittsburgh, USA and Christchurch, New Zealand promote resilience in asset management specifically to enhance the overall health of the city, businesses, and communities and to ensure a more resilient and sustainable future for all their residents.

Pittsburgh is a city with one of the oldest building stocks in the United States. Rather than a challenge, the city saw this as an opportunity to retrofit its aging buildings, allowing them to transform and reuse existing buildings. Retrofitting supports the city’s path to meeting net-zero targets by improving their energy efficiency while extending the life of city structures. Along with the environmental benefits, the commercial and social returns included benefits to the workforce by providing new jobs and better working environments as well as the opportunity to integrate technological advances into building design.

Pittsburgh’s retrofitting program has allowed the city to save costs and relieve financial pressures on the municipal budget. The Municipal Building Benchmarking Report found that the City of Pittsburgh spent US $2.7 million to operate just 154 public buildings per year. Halving the energy consumption of these buildings could save at least US $1.3 million every year. Through the report, the city found that most of their facilities have much higher energy consumption levels than the national median.  Potential energy savings were calculated to be worth US $40 million – funds that could be channeled into other city priorities including climate resilience projects. Pittsburgh’s retrofitting program will help to meet the ambitious goals of the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan 3.0 which seeks dramatic greenhouse gas reductions of 50% by 2030 in an effort to create a stronger and healthier Pittsburgh.

Christchurch in New Zealand has focused on enhancing joint efforts to address the need for continued investment in core resilience infrastructure to prepare for future crises and protect the city and its communities from their impacts. Christchurch recently launched its Long-Term Plan 2021–31 (LTP) which was developed in collaboration with local stakeholders, experts, service providers, and decision-makers through round-table discussions and workshops that reviewed and analyzed their disaster recovery experience, such as from the major earthquake in 2010.

The discussions revealed that infrastructure management is decisive for the city’s ability and capacity to respond to sudden shocks and stresses. In order to prioritize and plan for resilience, the city needs to move away from traditional investment frameworks that prioritize asset-based and low-capital cost and instead focus on making investment decisions that consider wider system benefits. This led to the development of several strategies within the LTP, providing a framework alongside multi-agency actions towards a more resilient city and addressing the need for continued investment in core infrastructure to prepare communities for future shocks and stresses. Under the strategy sit 14 Asset Management Plans (AMP), each with a section to specify how to manage risk, plan for and invest in resilience.

Tool Development – Resilience for Assets, Organizations, Communities

In developing the guidance, the program reviewed the above case studies and existing practices within Australia and internationally to provide initial insight into the current practice of resilient asset management across various contexts. This research revealed that a systems-based understanding of asset interconnectedness is vital for resilient asset management. Assets need to be considered with the community it services at the center and with reference to the environment it sits within. To build urban resilience, asset management needs to shift from focusing on an individual asset to considering the impacts of an asset or group of assets on overall community resilience.

Practice review and stakeholder engagement during guidance development (Source: AECOM)

With the support from our local implementation partner, AECOM, the practice review was followed by developing guidance and prototyping an interdependency assessment tool. The program engaged with representatives and asset managers from agencies in the NSW government and local government councils within Greater Sydney through peer-review and feedback loops. The program team also received valuable input from other global cities in the R-Cities network such as The Hague, Rotterdam, and Greater Manchester.

In the context of asset management, the understanding that the resilience of an asset or assets is dependent on the environment and community that it services and vice versa is vital. The program adapted an approach from the NSW Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy where resilience is broken down into three categories – asset resilience, organizational resilience, and community resilience.

The interdependencies between asset resilience, organizational resilience and community resilience must be accounted for when developing Strategic Asset Management Plans (SAMPs) and Asset Management Plans (AMPs) – Adapted from NSW Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy, 2018

Infrastructure for Resilience Places Framework, A Practical Guidance

The review and stakeholder engagement process led to the development of the pilot: Infrastructure for Resilient Places Framework: A Practical Guidance for Asset Managers and Interdependency and Shocks Assessment Tool. At the core of the guidance and tool, sits a place-based approach and the drive to understand interdependencies in order to plan ‘places for people’. The guidance and tools are developed to help asset managers in various sectors and any level to understand matters such as:

  • How are assets connected to other assets and whether they will be impacted by shock events?
  • What asset functions will be impacted during a shock event?
  • What kind of flow on impact will occur when the asset is impacted by a shock event?
  • What should be prioritized at the asset, organization, and community levels?
From the guidance: Place based approach with looking at three layers: asset, organizational and community level, the interdependencies and the priority shocks

Asset managers are encouraged to highlight interdependencies between their asset and other assets, organizations, or communities. This includes both when the asset is dependent on an external body to provide a particular service and if the external body is dependent on the asset to provide a particular service. For each asset, organization, or community, it is important to assess the potential for cascading impacts during different shock scenarios.  Interdependencies can result in higher impacts and increased vulnerability of one or several systems to various shocks depending on their local context (e.g. geography, service provided, and critical systems). Exploring cascading impacts and highlighting respective risks and vulnerabilities supports asset managers with decision making to improve the overall resilience of the asset, the organization and the places and systems the asset sits within.


Monica Barone
CEO, City of Sydney

On Infrastructure for Resilient Places Practical Framework Guidance: “The tool will help us put a new lens on understanding priority assets and helps ensure that assets are fit for what is actually likely to impact them. This will absolutely change the way we invest in our assets that can contribute to building resilience, in a way that we haven’t done before.


Next steps and further research

The guidance and tools developed in this pilot continue to be tested by asset managers within local councils in Sydney and state managers in NSW. There are opportunities to further refine the tools and share the approach with other asset managers through industry bodies and the private sector. Beyond the tool itself, engagement during the development process helped establish cross-connections between groups of asset managers in NSW state agencies and local government councils. The joint work and collaboration increased awareness at different levels of government allowing them to jointly consider how to embed resilience into asset management.

This guidance and tool are of interest to other cities and context to support institutions and organizations in the public and private sectors to create a more resilient future. When a critical mass of asset managers adopts this approach, it will enable comparable analysis to support decision makers and communities to more actively pursue investments that contribute to resilience at the city level. Infrastructure for resilience is vital to support cities and communities to recover, transform, and thrive in response to shocks and stresses and to realize positive economic, social, and environmental outcomes.


Additional resource: Hear directly from the Chief Resilience Officer of Sydney, and leaders from Infrastructure Australia, and Infrastructure New South Wales in our recent Cities on the Frontline webinar session focused on “Aligning Infrastructure for Resilience“. This session uniquely brought together three layers of governance to discuss the interconnected issue of resilient infrastructure. Members of FEMA National Advisory Council Infrastructure Protection Selection and Global Infrastructure Hub also give their national and global perspectives on this topic.


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From Asset Resilience to Resilient Places and Communities