Rebuilding for resilience: Fortifying infrastructure to withstand disaster

In the wake of a disaster, entire communities—public officials, business leaders, local residents—have united to “build back better.” In the face of sometimes insurmountable odds, they have found ways to rebuild smarter, stronger, and safer. They are successful because before the disaster struck, they had already laid the groundwork by fortifying their physical, digital, and societal infrastructure in an effort to better mitigate and manage disaster risk.

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Rapidly escalating disaster risk

The occurrence of high-impact disasters is becoming increasingly familiar: Earthquakes in New Zealand, Turkey, and China; floods in Thailand and Australia; and hurricanes and tornadoes in the US are just a few high-profile examples. As crippling damage to the world’s built infrastructure becomes more commonplace, the private and public sectors are looking for solutions to bolster the strength of their businesses and continuity of their communities—before and after disaster strikes.

PwC and UN working to improve disaster resilience

Since 2011, PwC has been working closely with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) to analyze data from past disasters and uncover common themes in how business and government prepare for disaster while providing a framework for long-term public-private sector collaboration in disaster preparedness and response. (For more, see UNISDR and PwC chart a new global framework for disaster risk reduction.)

This report extends the focus of the UNISDR-PwC initiative, looking specifically at the long-term opportunity for public-private sector collaboration in building or rebuilding risk-resilient infrastructure.

The most expensive disasters of the past three decades have occurred in recent years

Extensive conversations with public- and private-sector leaders worldwide in disaster management, recovery, and resilient rebuilding—in both developed and developing economies—provide the foundation of this report. They told us of their successes and setbacks, of rallying communities and local business to a common purpose, and shared their plans to build back stronger and smarter.

They were all in agreement that in the aftermath of a disaster, local communities, national governments, and business are all motivated to rebuild infrastructure that can withstand future disasters. This report describes why building disaster-resilient infrastructure is critical for a region’s competitiveness, both nationally and globally. It also illustrates how the private sector can offer innovative solutions to help communities build or rebuild disaster-resilient infrastructure.

PwC recommendations

Drawing on our discussions and synthesizing our contributors’ hard-earned lessons, we have distilled six key recommendations, explored in depth throughout the report:

  1. Focus on preparedness, prevention, and mitigation now. Research from multiple sources (see page 26) proves early investment in disaster preparedness, prevention, and risk mitigation is cost effective; resilient infrastructure can prevent both human and economic loss.
  2. Foster collaboration across public and private sectors. The earlier that business and government start to build relationships, the more effective they will be when disaster strikes.
  3. Motivate communitywide engagement. Local participation from the entire community is pivotal to the entire cycle of disaster prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery—including rebuilding resilient infrastructure for a vibrant economy.
  4. Coordinate across regional boundaries. Disasters don’t recognize jurisdictional borders; resilient infrastructure often needs to cross regional boundaries to be effective.
  5. Encourage resilient recovery with optimal incentives. The right combination of regulation and customized incentives can stimulate a resilient recovery.
  6. Build back stronger and smarter. A long-term plan encompassing resilient physical and digital infrastructure—while leveraging technology for innovation—can infuse the local economy with renewed vitality.

The findings in this report are relevant for cities, regions, and businesses the world over as they prepare to face the growing risks of natural disaster, compounded by the mounting challenges of the 21st century—as well as for those currently rebuilding.

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Read in-depth interviews with top leaders from around the world

Investment in resilient infrastructure key to disaster preparedness - Interview with Aris Papadopoulos

In this interview with Aris Papadopoulos, CEO of Titan America, learn what programs and incentives can help encourage decision-makers to incorporate more resilience into their investments and build back better while being cost effective.

Interview with Mark Cooper - Walmart takes collaborative approach to disaster recovery

In this PwC interview with Mark Cooper, read why Walmart is known for its responsiveness in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster. Learn what goes into preparing for this kind of focused response and specifically how people are key to Walmart's ability to be prepared to respond to disasters.

Greensburg builds back better - Interview with Bob Dixson

In this PwC interview with Bob Dixson, learn how a Level 5 tornado led town leaders to rally local support to rebuild resilient infrastructure and why entitlement was not a part of this community's thought process that instead focused on the community buy-in needed for an effective recovery. Read why the town has set the specific goal of running on 100 percent renewable energy 100 percent of the time.

Interview with David Miller: Invest now to better manage disaster risk in the future

In this PwC interview with David Miller, learn why he says resilience requires an understanding of how risk is assigned, evaluated, and analyzed before a disaster. Also read his point of view on why the private sector plays a key role in ways that we don’t fully appreciate or anticipate. Hint -- 85 percent of the critical infrastructure in the US is privately owned.

Interview with Dr. Juan Pablo Sarmiento: Shaping urban development in emerging markets

This PwC interview with Minister Akihiro explores lessons that can be learned from his country's experience. Read how the farsighted decision to enforce some of the strictest quake-resistant standards in the developed world paid off for Japan when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck off the northeast province of Töhoku in March 2011 tested the resiliency of the nation in unprecedented ways.

Interview with Emiko Okuyama - Sendai hailed as role model for resilient recovery

In this PwC interview, Sendai Mayor Emiko Okuyama talks about the role that local government can play in disaster preparedness and recovery. She also shares her point of view that private citizens, together with the public and private sectors, bear responsibility to increase their level of awareness for disaster preparedness.

Interview with Margareta Wahlström - Creating risk-resilient societies worldwide

In this PwC interview with Margareta Wahlström, learn how UNISDR plans to help create and leverage private sector disaster-management solutions on a global scale in collaboration with public- and private-sector participants. The framework for these solutions, created jointly with PwC, will serve as a foundation from which to build an international public-private collaborative platform for disaster resilience.

Pre-disaster planning essential to post-disaster resilience - Interview with Dr. Frederick Krimgold

In this interview with Dr. Frederick Krimgold of the Advanced Research Institute at Virginia Tech, he talks about the less-than-obvious interdependent relationships of infrastructure in urban design, and how competent planning, regulation and coordination can greatly affect a post-disaster recovery effort.

Interview with Tom Prendergast: Build resilient infrastructure "one bite" at a time

In this interview with Tom Prendergast, chairman and CEO of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority - the largest transportation system in the Western Hemisphere - he shares his insights on developing a well thought-out, documented and rehearsed plan for disasters such as Superstorm Sandy. He also delves into the importance of bringing in professionals familiar with engineering and design issues to get outside of your historical paradigm and bring it to another level when planning infrastructure and/or rebuilding.

Lessons from Japan: Setting the standards for resiliency - Interview with Akihiro Ohta, Minister of land, infrastructure, transport, and tourism, Japan

This PwC interview with Minister Akihiro explores lessons that can be learned from his country's experience. Read how the farsighted decision to enforce some of the strictest quake-resistant standards in the developed world paid off for Japan when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck off the northeast province of Töhoku in March 2011 tested the resiliency of the nation in unprecedented ways.

Interview with Pat Foye: In preparing for disasters, don't fight the last war

In this interview with Pat Foye, learn the successes and challenges of protecting the Port Authority’s infrastructure — airports; rail and bus transit; tunnels and bridges; and marine terminals — that serves some 17 million people who live and work in New York and New Jersey. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy inflicted some $2 billion in damages to infrastructure within the Port Authority’s jurisdiction.

Interview with Bob Prieto - Invest in infrastructure throughout its life cycle

In this PwC interview with Bob Prieto of Fluor Corporation, learn why he says less complex, more transparent, easier to understand, more flexible, more adaptable, responsive infrastructure systems will have higher levels of resiliency. Find out how to begin to invest in this kind of resilience so that it will pay off in the future.

Interview with Bob Parker - The mantra in Christchurch: prepare, prepare, prepare

In this interview with Bob Parker, learn the roles that collaboration, systems and processes, as well as economic recovery and intellectual capital play in preparedness. Read why Mayor Parker believes the world needs a city like Christchurch — a city that’s prepared to embrace new technologies and new ways of thinking in the aftermath of disaster.

Download the Disaster resilience report

Download the Disaster resilience report