Imperative for resilient UK infrastructure fuelled by Chancellor’s pledge

Infrastructure is at the heart of the UK’s economy and productivity, running through transport, communication, energy, water supply and sewage systems.

To prevent significant disruption to our transport, economy, well-being or even loss of life, it’s essential that infrastructure is protected and scenarios explored to help counter threats such as cyber terrorism, extreme climatic events, or accidents.

Substantial investment goes into infrastructure: the UK’s National Infrastructure Plan has set aside over £460 billion of investment for the next decade. This year’s budget includes £28.8billion pledged to a strategic roads investment package, £770m to improve transport infrastructure in cities, and new funding for fibre and 5G investment. Billions more could be spent if disaster struck major infrastructure nodes.

The Chancellor has commissioned a study on infrastructure resilience to identify how resilient the UK’s infrastructure is now and what needs to change to improve resilience and minimise cascade failures.

Chancellor Philip Hammond notes that “The development of the Data and Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI) provides a particular opportunity to undertake an in-depth analysis of resilience, working with key stakeholders.”

The UK’s Data and Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI) is a world-leading centre for excellence in infrastructure research based in Oxford, UK and is managed by the Scientific Computing Department (SCD) of the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Sam Chorlton, Leader of DAFNI at STFC commented that “A major electricity outage alone can have a devastating impact far beyond the region where the substation is located.  Increasing dependence on computer systems and connectivity in areas such as our hospitals, transport, businesses and communication means identifying failure scenarios and their impacts is vital to plan for ways to mitigate those potential failures.”

Identifying future shocks, threats and challenges

From DAFNI’s perspective, the analysis would look into the social-technical and economic impacts of systemic cascading failure across several interdependent sectors as a consequence of a disruption in one or more of its parts.

This could include mapping how the failure of electricity sub-stations would impact on other critical national infrastructure, including transport systems, water supply, telecommunications, health, education and business services. This type of disruption can be caused by man-made actions (on purpose or as a result of error) or by natural events such as flooding, extreme heat or high winds, with extreme weather situations set to become more likely with climate change and global warming.

Ensuring that monies spent on infrastructure are spent in the right place, in the most efficient way, in ways that will ensure projects complement each other now and in the long term, and can withstand incidents, have been boosted by the Chancellor’s request to the National Infrastructure Commission[3] (NIC) to conduct a study on infrastructure resilience.

Infrastructure underpins success: the UK’s economic success is dependent on having efficient and reliable infrastructure systems. The study will review our increasingly-interdependent infrastructure systems and investigate how systems can cope with “future shocks, threats and challenges”. It will also assess the costs and benefits of preventative measures and will be of vital importance to government, economists, business leaders and research and government bodies in the UK and overseas.

In his request the Chancellor specifically references DAFNI, a UK national research facility recognised as a world leader for infrastructure systems analysis, modelling, simulation, visualization and decision support being delivered by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and hosted at the prestigious Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Harwell, Oxford.

Chair of the DAFNI Governance Board, Jim Hall, comments, “It is encouraging to see this level of recognition of the opportunity that DAFNI provides for UK infrastructure systems analysis.”

Sam Chorlton, Leader of DAFNI at STFC, added, “At a time when so much is changing for around the world climatically and politically, it’s essential to look at how we shore up our infrastructure and ensure critical hotspots are identified, to ensure global resilience and success.”

The final report is provisionally set to be published by spring 2020.