By Heather Smith*
The desire for resilient water systems is fast becoming a keystone of utility governance. In 2016, an influential US consortium published “Taking the Next Step” which recommended ten attributes of effective utility management.
Foremost was a call for “enterprise resiliency.” That utility-wide, strategic approach meant utility leaders and staff worked together both internally and with external partners to anticipate, respond to, and avoid problems.
Resilience thinking–the ability of a system to adapt to a disturbance–isn’t new. And threats may be from one-off shock events, or from underlying ‘slow motion’, or ‘slow burn’ stresses. But while simple in concept, achieving resiliency is complicated. It requires all human, organisational and technological aspects of an entity must work in concert, under a leadership willing to be counter-intuitive and, at times, challenging of perceived business wisdom.
The basic concepts of resilience have been adopted from materials science, from the world of structural integrity, from organisational psychology and from ecological studies of natural systems.
Indeed some offer ecological resilience as the platform for understanding the collective resilience of organisations. Yet in a real, dynamic world, no one assumes systems should return to their pre-stressed state after a shock; rather, an organisation should learn from the stresses upon it, survive, adapt and move forward to an improved state of readiness. To start, utilities can establish tolerance levels for, and management strategies of, the full range of, business risks. Utilities are exposed to rising legal, regulatory, financial, environmental, safety, physical and cyber security risks. They risk losses from human resource turnover and losses from natural disasters. All these risks are complicated by and interdependent with other institutions.