Richard Threlfall shares insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global infrastructure and how the sector will need to respond.
Amid increasing public concern and inconsistent international mitigation responses to the Coronavirus, battening down the hatches is not an approach Infrastructure providers can take while we wait to see how the pandemic will play out.
Governments are judged by the stable supply of essential goods and services in a crisis and it is crucial that infrastructure operators continue to facilitate the smooth provision of transport, connectivity and utilities services amidst a myriad of uncertainties. Public and private operators will need to strike a sensitive balance, prioritising both the health and safety of customers and staff and the continued provision of critical services. This will require flexibility, the deployment of robust resilience plans and the utilization of smart and digital solutions.
The impacts on infrastructure will be volatile and interconnected
Extreme events change the behaviour of society and infrastructure providers need to be ready to respond quickly.
As some shops and offices close we may see a change in the balance of energy demand shift away from the city and increase in residential areas. High priority services such as hospitals and emergency services may need to take priority in the provision of constant power and water supplies if shortages arise.
Pressures will be felt on high speed broadband connectivity as there is a surge in remote working and online purchasing activity.
The impact will not be on one sector alone but across these interconnected systems of critical infrastructure services and will need a systems based approach across sectors to identify the interconnected risks/ impacts and to collaborate on where to prioritise efforts to keep the system moving.
Quick response requires robust resilience planning
Infrastructure providers are well versed in preparing for unexpected and extreme events and implement robust resilience plans to help them prepare and respond effectively. Whilst the virus itself does not impact the physicality of infrastructure assets there may be ramifications for maintenance, back and front office staff that in turn may limit the provision of services.
Prioritising only essential maintenance procedures, running reduced services at of peak times and working to ensure the continued health and safety of workers will ensure operators can provide critical, whilst maybe not optimal services.
The role of digital enablement
Companies who have taken steps to embrace digital technologies will face less disruption than those still relying on more traditional and manual methods. Using smart scheduling/supply of service technologies and digital front and back office solutions will help ensure that disruption to the supply of services is minimized.
As we increasingly face threats in the form of weather disruption, pandemics and over population we see infrastructure operators placing risk, resilience and digital enablement at the heart of their strategies and adopting systems thinking to ensure the continued provision of services in extreme events across the infrastructure ecosystem.