Start date: 01/10/2010
End date: 31/03/2014

Funded by:


Global Uncertainties

Associate Partner:
ISNGI banner

Award recipient:

Kate Cochrane
Newcastle Council

Research Overview:
problems, aims, and participants

What will the UK's critical infrastructure look like in 2030? In 2050? How resilient will it be? Decisions taken now by policy makers, NGOs, industrialists, and user communities will influence the answers to these questions. How can this decision making be best informed by considerations of infrastructural resilience?


Current reports from the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Council for Science and Technology, and the Cabinet Office are united in their assessment that achieving and sustaining resilience is the key challenge facing the UK's critical infrastructure. They are also unanimous in their assessment of three main issues: the threats to infrastructures, the disparate and interconnected nature of the system, and the inherent limits to the present analysis.

Threats to the national infrastructure

The main threats to national infrastructure can be identified as extreme weather events, terrorist attacks, or systemic failures.

1. Extreme weather

Tsunami Snow Solar flare

Extreme weather can cause extensive damages to infrastructures. These damages might result from various phenomena such as floods, storms, icy conditions and other disturbances resulting from climate change. Solar flares are also another potential major threat for energy networks.

2. Terrorist attacks


Man-made threats to infrastructure are to be taken seriously especially in the context of centralised networks and reliance on nuclear energy.

3. Systemic failures

System failure

From the dependence on an energy source available in limited supply such as hydrocarbons to a possible financial crisis, many systemic failures can damage transport and energy networks.

Disparate and interconnected nature of the UK's infrastructure systems

The complex, disparate and interconnected nature of the UK's infrastructure systems is highlighted as a key concern by all. Our critical infrastructure is highly fragmented both in terms of its governance and in terms of the number of agencies charged with achieving and maintaining resilience, which range from national government to local services and even community groups such as local resilience forums. Moreover, the cross-sector interactions amongst different technological systems within the national critical infrastructure are not well understood, with key inter-dependencies potentially overlooked.

Limits of existing analysis

Initiatives such as the Cabinet Office's new Natural Hazards Team are working to address this. The establishment of such bodies with responsibility for oversight and improving joined up resilience is a key recommendation in all four reports. However, such bodies currently lack two critical resources:

(1) a full understanding of the resilience implications of our current and future infrastructural organisation; and

(2) vehicles for effectively conveying this understanding to the full range of relevant stakeholders for whom the term resilience is currently difficult to understand in anything other than an abstract sense.


This project will consider future developments in the UK's energy and transport infrastructure and the resilience of these systems to natural and malicious threats and hazards, delivering

  1. fresh perspectives on how the inter-relations amongst our critical infrastructure sectors impact on current and future UK resilience,
  2. a state-of-the-art integrated social science/engineering methodology that can be generalised to address different sectors and scenarios, and
  3. an interactive demonstrator simulation that operationalises the otherwise nebulous concept of resilience for a wide range of decision makers and stakeholders.

The Resilient Futures project will engage directly with this context by working with relevant stakeholders from many sectors and governance levels to achieve a step change in both (1) and (2).

To achieve this, we will focus on future rather than present UK infrastructure. This is for a two reasons. First, we intend to engender a paradigm shift in resilience thinking - from a fragmented short-termism that encourages agencies to focus on protecting their own current assets from presently perceived threats to a longer-term inter-dependent perspective recognising that the nature of both disruptive events and the systems that are disrupted is constantly evolving and that our efforts towards achieving resilience now must not compromise our future resilience. Second, focussing on a 2030/2050 time-frame lifts discussion out of the politically charged here and now to a context in which there is more room for discussion, learning and organisational change. A focus on *current resilience* must overcome a natural tendency for the agencies involved to defend their current processes and practices, explain their past record of disruption management, etc., before the conversation can move to engaging with potential for improvement, learning and change.


The Resilient Futures project will be conducted by researchers from different discplines in close collaboration with a group of stakeholder partners who are at the coalface of infrastructure resilience issues.

Agencies involved cover a range of sectors and levels: central government (the Cabinet Office's Civil Contingencies Secretariat, the Health Protection Agency); emergency services (Ambulance, Red Cross, Fire and Rescue Service, British Transport Police); specialist security and terrorism mitigation (CPNI); asset holders/service providers ( BT, Transport for London); engineering and the built-environment (Costain, Institute of Civil Engineers, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Arup); local authorities and regional policy-forums (London Borough of Hackney, Tamworth Borough Council, Staffordshire Civil Contingencies Unit); community and third-sector agencies (National Youth Agency); and those engaged in futures and scenario work (SigmaScan developers). We anticipate that an increasing number of agencies (esp. local resilience forums) will join this open forum over the duration of the project.