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Tech-driven innovations can help us build anticipatory resiliency in our communities

March 16, 2020

It’s important to perceive threats—from hurricanes to pandemic disease—and plan for them. Here are 3 tech advancements to help build resiliency.

Resiliency is fundamental to human life. Individually, we become resilient—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—through our responses to unexpected challenges and threats, even those that seem overwhelming and are out of our control. While resiliency develops in us, it does not develop on its own. Our pursuit of individual resiliency relies on the experiences, knowledge, and foresight of others to establish a shared pursuit of mutual resiliency.

As we perceive threats that are more complex and affect our whole community, we begin to anticipate risks with greater thoughtfulness and plan our responses with greater care. This is the development of anticipatory resiliency. This is, quite honestly, happening before our eyes with the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Decisions are being made in anticipation of what could happen.

Perceiving threats that can impact a community—like the current coronavirus pandemic—and acting on those threats is an example of anticipatory resiliency.

On a greater scale, community-wide threats are complex and difficult to predict. These can include recessions, crime, disease outbreaks, and natural disasters. Anticipatory resiliency is the ideal goal for a community in preparing for unknown events.

If we can anticipate the complexity in threats, we can build effective responses and sustained resiliency.

As a design and engineering firm, Stantec specializes in anticipatory resiliency. We partner with clients to evaluate risk, design strength, and monitor durability. We support communities worldwide through projects ranging from waterways to highways and hospitals. In all our work, we are mindful of the interacting threats that can affect these projects and communities.

For example, after conducting post-disaster analyses of communities affected by hurricanes, our Building Performance Group makes recommendations on hurricane-resistant building designs for homes and shelters. This group also supports the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency in analyzing the historical experiences of cities with disasters—including high winds, fires, floods, hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes—and the resiliency decisions that will affect their risks in future disasters.

Every community needs anticipatory resiliency. It guides high-value, preservation actions. When leaders focus on planning for resiliency, they show they want to preserve the value of homes, shelters, hospitals, and businesses. More importantly, they are protecting the opportunity for community members to thrive.

With the rising risks tied to climate change and extreme weather, we are working with clients to better understand the threats, how best to prepare, and ideal responses to these conditions. With the help of our innovation partners, we’re using new and emerging technologies that will help us better anticipate and respond to the multiple pathways to resiliency.

Community-wide threats are complex and difficult to predict. These can include recessions, crime, disease outbreaks, and natural disasters.

Targeting high-risk factors, head-on

Traditionally, priority studies of risks in the built environment focused on durability and utility of the structure, with little attention on event-based risks. Based on what our team has learned from our research of disasters, we are now targeting what may be the greatest high-risk factor—invisible material contamination.

One of the most dangerous aspects of natural disasters is the contamination of places where we prepare food, care for the sick, and put our families to bed. Through the chaos of sudden events, the undetected presence of mold, bacteria, feces, and contaminated saliva (e.g., coronavirus) can threaten human health. That can become the leading cause of disease and mortality, as has been reported in the case of past disasters involving extreme rainfall and flooding.

In response to this risk, we are studying the use of a handheld instrument to identify health-threatening contaminates in or on materials (i.e., CSI by SafetySpect). The device will allow us to rapidly detect contaminations that could pose hidden threats to health and survival.

The device will help teams verify the ability of effective designs to reduce contaminates, help our clients maintain clean spaces, and detect and reduce contaminations that threaten health after disasters.

As a result, this tool can support more robust and actionable studies of risks—including the landscape, building designs, and pollutants.

After conducting post-disaster analyses of communities affected by hurricanes, Stantec's Building Performance Group makes recommendations on hurricane-resistant building designs for homes and shelters. 

Leveraging technology for improved data analysis and management

When a government agency or a large organization is responsible for anticipatory resiliency, the preparation and response to threats is complicated by the massive number of potential unique cases. The actions to mitigate risks are numerous and difficult to monitor—let alone analyze, prioritize, and manage—in real time. 

Consider the homes of military personnel, families using subsidized housing, and patients relying on home-based care. When these are in places that warrant analyses of risk and the development of anticipatory resiliency, success may seem impossible. In such a setting, there are many cases and diverse risks.

Our team is working with an innovation partner to test a tool that uses hyper-analytic services to organize, inform, and assist those who manage risk control and resiliency. The most effective tools are remotely hosted platforms that provide real-time data integration from multiple sources for assignments that can be automatically managed with risk signals, documentation, and reporting.

If we can anticipate the complexity in threats, we can build effective responses and sustained resiliency to future threats.

The use of hyper-analytic services is essential when the scope of work is large. This can include cases involving maintenance and security of a large housing stock, disparate buildings that require inspections, or facilities that need monitoring during and after disasters. The tool also allows us to see how the “cases” are more than the buildings, as each target for resiliency presents other information and challenges in the form of type of incidents, resources location, personnel qualifications, etc.

Hyper-analytic tools not only coordinate priority decisions and actions, they also use multifactorial analyses to reveal optimal pathways of future risk mitigation. We see them as necessary in the development of anticipatory resiliency.

Ensuring consistent, high-value communication

Finally, we are testing another tool that can help community leaders find accurate information quickly. The most promising tools use natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) to analyze documents and organize information against specific user needs.

In the pursuit of a community’s anticipatory resiliency, leaders require specific technical information. They need data that is reliable, current, and consistent with their geography, terrain, building designs, demographics, capabilities, and other factors. Such information is difficult to find and use in the time frames that they are often required during times of need.

Our team is working with partners who focus on self-improving NLP/ML tools to examine how these are aligned to technical information requirements among many possible user needs. 

One of the most dangerous aspects of natural disasters is the contamination of places where we prepare food, care for the sick, and put our families to bed. Past disasters involving extreme rainfall and flooding have shown that undetected mold and other contaminants poses a great risk.

We believe that if our larger government clients adopted such NLP/ML tools that are open to domains of specialists—such as those that study and respond to natural disasters—the value of the information would increase. The tool would allow for a significant intake of information in many forms, instant discovery of information, and the exact fit of information to the needs of end users.

Communities defined by their anticipatory resiliency

As we anticipate and pursue resiliency, we are mindful of the surrounding resiliency developed within our micro and macro scales of communities—best defined as layers of anticipatory resiliency.

Consider how forward-thinking leaders compete to attract new businesses to their communities. They work hard to suggest that their respective places can meet the needs of a business and its employees. A good part of their argument is that the community is reliable when it comes to sustaining quality of life and resilient when it comes to unexpected events that threaten the community. As we prepare for a future with a greater frequency of extreme weather events, it is not hard to imagine that a community’s reputation will increasingly be based on their achieved anticipatory resiliency.

Regardless of the size of the community, from a town to an international workforce, leaders require planning methods that anticipate long-term needs. When it comes to risk and resiliency, leaders can be disheartened by the complexity of many human, built, and environmental factors. They can, however, pursue anticipatory resiliency by considering three key planning questions:

  1. At each scale of analysis, from the larger environment to the specific material, what changes can we anticipate and use to reduce risks?
  2. Throughout the many instances that can pose risks, how are we using data to guide our immediate actions and future priorities? 
  3. Given the risks and mitigations among other communities, what insights from their experiences fit our specific plans?

As a foundation to planning the future state of any community, with an appreciation for what is unknown and difficult to predict, anticipatory resiliency offers us an immediate and sustained goal that organizes practical, well-informed actions. It is the prudent pursuit of resiliency that surrounds us and requires cooperation. Or, as we say at Stantec, it is to “design with community in mind.”

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