SRA-Sponsored Forum Concludes Resilience Requires Policy Change

The forum, on "Risk & Resilience Assessment Methodologies in Transportation and Energy Policy," took place in Berlin on February 4, 2014.

Igor Linkov (pictured at right), James H. Lambert and Ortwin Renn contributed the following report:

The Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) was among sponsors of the Policy Forum on “Risk & Resilience Assessment Methodologies in Transportation and Energy Policy” held 4 February 2014 in Berlin, Germany. The objectives of the Policy Forum have been to explore how the science of risk analysis, decision analysis and resilience can contribute to policy development for transportation and energy systems, with a focus on policies that are relevant to Germany.

Risk management for systems relies on quantitative assessment of predictable events. Increasingly interconnected physical, cyber, and social networks are creating large complex systems for which the possibility to quantitatively define risks or even to predict the range of events that might befall a system, is challenged. Scientists, managers, and policy makers can attempt to solve specific problems within the system in which they operate, but many unique or highly interdependent components may be left out. Sometimes these unpredictable events are called “black swans”.

An overarching adaptive management concept, resilience, can fill this gap. Risk analysis addresses events with damaging consequences that are principally known or calculable. Where novel or unknown risks are evolving, addressing resilience can expand upon traditional risk management to adapt even to unknown and surprising events. Risk is a condition of threat but resilience is the capacity of a system to sustain critical functionality—dynamic risk management even under unknown stress factors.

Resilience is a fundamentally different framework than risk management. The goal is not simply to improve the confidence of the system by adding another standard deviation (sigma) on the normal distribution curve; changing the cutoff criteria for risk acceptance will not fully capture the fat tails of probabilistic events. Nor is resilience analysis a replacement for risk analysis. Instead resilience brings a complementary framework that incorporates strategies of adaptation and mitigation to the traditional risk framework. It is not focused on the risk agent but on the risk-absorbing features of a system and its capability to sustain its functionality in the presence of stress and turbulence. Both resilience and risk are functions of time. Though instead of only hardening individual components of a system, resilience builds flexibility to the system in order to respond to change.

To discuss and develop expert strategies to address risk and resilience in policy, the Forum brought together approximately sixty scientists, engineers, and policy makers from Germany, Canada, and the US. The Forum was chaired by Professors Igor Linkov and Ortwin Renn and was expertly hosted by the Embassy of Canada in Berlin, offering its superb meeting facilities in the vicinity of the Potsdamer Platz. The meeting was jointly supported by the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, the  German National Academy of Technology and Engineering (Acatech), the Helmholtz Association, the Embassy of Canada and the Society for Risk Analysis. 

Professor Robert Schlögl, Director of Fritz-Haber-Institute of the Max Planck Society and Chair of the Energy Systems Project of the National German Academies presented an Opening Address on  “Energy Transition: The Research Initiative of the National German Academies.”  His presentation introduced Energiewende, the energy transition policy adapted in Germany that promises to transform the country to a sustainabl energy supply system by means of replacing conventional and nuclear sources of energy by renewable sources, and improving energy efficiency.  The first Panel discussed challenges and solutions related to energy. The panelists were: Professors Jatin Nathwani, Chair in Public Policy for Sustainable Energy of Ontario, and Executive Director, Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy, at the University of Waterloo in Canada, James H. Lambert, Associate Director, Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems, University of Virginia, USA, and Miranda Schreurs, Free University and Helmholtz Alliance “Energy-Trans”, GERMANY .  The second Panel was focused on transportation with panelists Professors Klaus Töpfer, Director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), , GERMANY , Wolfgang Kröger, Chair of Risk Center at the Swiss Institute of Technology, Zurich, SWITZERLAND , and Benoit Montreuil, Canada Research Chair in Enterprise Engineering, Logistics and Transportation, at the University of Laval, CANADA.   Eric Walsh, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Canada, and  Jennifer Decker, Counsellor Science & Technology, presented opening and closing remarks. 

The workshop concluded that policy changes are critical to support the shift to a resilience approach. To begin this process, the discussants suggested to establish, a formal taxonomy of resilience in technical systems in order to allow discussion and learning between domains. Resilience touches many dimensions—social, economic, environmental, regulatory, technological—though where traditional risk methods look at each piece individually, and often excludes those, which cannot be measured quantitatively, resilience requires a systems level approach to consider the interactions between the components. But here also lies an opportunity to enhance the adoption of resilience principles: Systems level network analysis is often more cost-effective compared to a piecemeal upgrade of each component of a system. A high-level screening via resilience analysis can be done repeatedly and used to identify specific weak points for a detailed risk analysis, leading to more efficient use of time and resources. Risk should be considered where needed, but not at any intersection of functionally dependent components. Nonetheless, unfamiliarity with resilience may require that it should be built into the regulatory structure before it will be widely adopted at national scales. In many cases, these systems level tools have not been developed yet. Resilience of a particular system is often defined through a narrative and the method for developing formal models from those narratives is a challenge.

A smaller group of panelists and participants met immediately after the Forum to draft a summary position paper, which will be submitted for publication soon.