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  • Guest Editor collection: 25 Sep 2017 Dilanthi Amaratunga
    Professor of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management/ Head
    Global Disaster Resilience Centre, University of Huddersfield, UK

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Dilanthi AmaratungaProfessor of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management/ Head Global Disaster Resilience Centre, University of Huddersfield, UK (GDRC)

Mainstreaming disaster resilience within the construction process

Over the last decade, the world has witnessed a series of increasingly devastating natural disasters. These disaster threats were further aggravated due to various social, economic and environmental trends, such as, growing population, urbanisation, and global environmental change. As we seek a more proactive approach to reduce the vulnerability and exposure, and to increase resilience, there is a growing recognition that those responsible for the built environment have a vital role to play in developing societal resilience to disasters. This editorial considers the vital role of construction and property professionals in contributing to the development of societal resilience to disasters. In supporting this, the editorial documents some of the key knowledge themes and gaps that must be addressed for mainstreaming disaster resilience concepts within construction and property, and sets out a series of recommendations to mainstream disaster resilience in the construction process.


With growing population and infrastructures, the world’s exposure to hazards is increasing. A major mitigating factor to disaster risk is capacity. This capacity needs to be deployed before and after the hazard visits a community. Effective mitigation and preparedness can greatly reduce the threat posed by hazards of all types, while the post-disaster response can impact the loss of life, and timely reconstruction can minimize the broader economic and social damage. The importance of tackling disaster risk is highlighted in all three of the major global agreements that were finalized in 2015: Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 - 2030, Climate Change (COP21), and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction 2015–2030[i], endorsed by 187 UN states in 2015, recognizes that disaster risk reduction practices need to be multi-hazard and multisectoral, inclusive and accessible in order to be efficient and effective. The Framework also identifies:

  • A need for the private sector, including the construction industry, to work more closely with other stakeholders and to create opportunities for collaboration, and for businesses to integrate disaster risk into their management practices
  • A need to promote the incorporation of disaster risk knowledge, including disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and rehabilitation, in formal and professional education and training

The term resilience has been adopted by many policy makers in an attempt to describe the way in which they would like to reduce a nation’s susceptibility to major incidents of all kinds by reducing their probability of occurring and their likely effects, and by building institutions and structures in such a way as to minimise any possible effects of disruption upon them.

There has been growing recognition that the construction industry and associated built environment professions are a vital component of this capacity and that the construction industry has a much broader role to anticipate, assess, prevent, prepare, respond, and recover from a disaster. The scale, size and impact of the built environment cannot be ignored. In the UK for example, construction is one of the largest sectors of the economy. It contributes almost £90 billion to the UK economy (or 6.7%) in value added, comprises over 280,000 businesses covering some 2.93 million jobs, which is equivalent to about 10% of total UK employment[ii]. It generates about 9% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the European Union and provides 18 million direct jobs. The European Union’s internal market offers international partners access to more than 500 million people and approximately EUR 13 trillion in GDP[iii]. As a major consumer of services and intermediate products such as raw materials, chemicals or electrical equipment, construction impacts many other economic sectors.

The vital role of the built environment in serving human endeavours means that when some of its elements are damaged or destroyed, the ability of society to function – economically and socially – is severely disrupted.  We define a resilient built environment as: “design, develop and manage context sensitive buildings, spaces and places, which have the capacity to resist or change in order to reduce hazard vulnerability, and enable society to continue functioning, economically and socially, when subjected to a hazard event”. It has, amongst others, the following characteristics:

  • Understand hazard threats;
  • Local and external capacity development;
  • Culturally appropriate methods and technologies;
  • Hazard resistant materials and technologies;
  • Protective infrastructure;
  • Retrofitting;
  • Response plans, temporary shelter and services;
  • Sustainable development and planning;
  • Learn from previous hazard events.

The protective characteristics of the built environment offer an important means by which humanity can reduce the risk posed by hazards, thereby preventing a disaster. Conversely, post-disaster, the loss of critical buildings and infrastructure can greatly increase a community’s vulnerability to hazards in the future. Finally, the individual and local nature of the built environment, shaped by context, restricts our ability to apply generic solutions. The consequences outlined above serve to underline and support the growing recognition that those responsible for the built environment have a vital role to play in developing societal resilience to disasters. Supporting this view, one of the construction sector’s professional bodies, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors[iv], recently identified the need for, “…a massive rethink around how we build up skills across our sector to meet the challenges we’re facing and how we ensure economic viability for land and real estate firms while delivering on social needs and managing finite resources.”

“At every stage, the built environment professions have invaluable expertise and a key role to play. Working in multi-disciplinary teams and with local partners and intermediaries is essential. This kind of activity requires a special and new set of professional skills that need to be shared across all the built environment professions”[v]. “In addition, new skills are needed to work with the very poor communities who are worst affected by disasters, or with the agencies and intermediaries who are engaged with them. Major disasters hit poor communities hardest, both in terms of numbers immediately affected and through prolonged suffering during reconstruction”[vi]. Although more robust construction in and of itself will not eliminate the consequences of disruptive events, there is widespread recognition that the built environment community has a valuable role to play in finding and promoting rational, balanced solutions to what remains an unbounded threat.

In recognition of these challenges, an EU funded project entitled CADRE (Collaborative Action towards Disaster Resilience Education), which was launched in 2013, has identified mechanisms to mainstream disaster resilience in the construction process. In doing so, the project is directly contributing to the goals of the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction 2015–2030, including three of the agreed seven global targets:

  • Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030
  • Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030
  • Substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020

The research team conducted a detailed study to capture labour market requirements for disaster resilience and its interface with the construction industry and its professionals.

The framework of the study is a three dimensional framework consisting of the following parameters:

  • Built environment stakeholders: National and local government organisations; Community; NGOs, INGOs and other international agencies; Academia and research organisations; and Private sector.
  • Dimensions of resilience: Economic Resilience; Environmental Resilience; Institutional Resilience; Social Resilience and Technological Resilience
  • Stages of property lifecycle: Preparation Stage; Design Stage; Pre-Construction Stage; Construction Stage and Use Stage

The framework was developed through an extensive consultation process and was refined throughout with the emerging literature findings and the opinion of stakeholders who has been interviewed to capture the labour market demands in construction industry to increase societal resilience to disasters.

Accordingly, the initial investigation aimed at capturing the needs of five stakeholder groups (local and national government, the community, NGOs, INGOs and other international agencies, academia and research organisations, and the private sector) involved in disaster resilience and management, and current and emerging skills for built environment professionals that could contribute to enhancing societal resilience to disasters across the property cycle. All needs and skills are categorised into five dimensions of resilience (Social, Economic, Institutional, Environmental, Technological).

Knowledge gaps and capacity building

There were discussions with: national and local government organizations; community representatives; NGOs, INGOs and other international agencies; academia and research organizations; and the private sector. In parallel, an extensive policy analysis was conducted to capture the emerging policy level needs. Together, these have been used to identify the needs of various stakeholder groups in relation to current and emerging skills in the construction sector. The primary and secondary data generated a long list of needs and skills. Finally, the identified needs and skills were combined ‘like-for-like’ to produce broader stakeholder requirements and/or knowledge gaps. Some of the key areas identified are:

  • Governance, legal frameworks and compliance (Building codes, regulations and planning; Urban planning and land-use; Health & safety; Principles of accountability and transparency; Inclusive economic planning; Changing practice and policies)
  • Sustainability and resilience (Environmental impact assessment and management; Sustainable design principles; Waste production and pollution of land water and air; Sustainable retrofitting; Debris management)
  • Business continuity management (Managing and recovering from the impacts of a business disruption event;  Ensure continuity of critical services; Stabilise the effects of a disruptive event; )Capitalise on opportunities
  • Ethics and human rights (Reflecting social demographics; Social responsibility)
  • Disaster response (Emergency and temporary shelters; Evacuation; Damage assessment; Temporary services)
  • Innovative financing mechanisms (Budgeting and estimating; Investment appraisals and cost benefit analysis; Economic loss of disasters; Affordable and cost effective design and usage; Claims and insurance; Public-private partnership (PPP))
  • Contracts and procurement (Supply chain management; Dispute resolution; Community wide engagement)
  • Resilience technologies, engineering and infrastructure (Capacity and adequacy of critical infrastructure; Strengthen / retrofit the vulnerable infrastructure; Infrastructure interdependencies; Clean and environmentally sound technologies and processes; Automation & standardisation; Project complexity; Climate change adaptation technologies)
  • Multi stakeholder approach, inclusion and empowerment (Team working – collaboration and cross professional working; Soft skills of communication; Community empowerment; Leadership and people management; Disaster awareness; Alliances and partnerships; Interdisciplinary working; Change management)
  • Knowledge management (Performance metrics, Big data analytical skills, Standardisation and integration of data, Data and information management, Communication)
  • Social and cultural awareness ( Cultural intelligence; Indigenous knowledge)
  • Post disaster project management (Time management; Human resource management; Leadership and people management; Process and quality management; Materials and resource management)
  • Multi hazard risk assessment  (Vulnerability, risk and exposure mapping; Understanding disaster risk)


There have been growing calls for greater engagement of the construction industry in disaster resilience building efforts. This editorial highlights the gaps in the knowledge base of construction professionals that are undermining their ability to contribute to the development of a more disaster resilient society. Construction of the built environment can contribute to societal resilience through the product and as a process. Accordingly, the knowledge gaps identified have informed the development of a professional doctorate programme that can update the knowledge and skills of construction professionals in the industry.  Below are some further recommendations to key actors in the built environment on how to more effectively mainstream disaster resilience in the construction process and are detailed below.


The higher education sector plays a significant role in any capacity development strategy. Lifelong learning, Undergraduate, Masters, Doctoral, Continuous professional development, Research and International cooperation are the strategies that enable higher education in addressing the identified knowledge gaps and developing capacity among built environment professionals for disaster resilience building. This includes the design and delivery of educational programmes, and the development and dissemination of new knowledge.

The educational programme addresses the problems from the field and can promote affordable solutions, as per local context, including the cultural calibration of technology. Furthermore, to make scientific results more relevant and actionable, policy makers and practitioners should join with construction and property groups in higher education to form multi stakeholder groups that work together from the outset to design and deliver new knowledge. It is important that educational programmes promote a multi-disciplinary approach and understanding, and higher education must develop flexible and customised programmes and curricula, whether a module in regular Masters or Undergraduate curriculum, or as dedicated postgraduate programmes such as Professional Doctorates. At the same time, built environment research and education must pay attention to an all-hazard, problem-focused approach to address the complexity of disaster risk, which will require collaboration and communication across the scientific disciplines.

Furthermore, it is important to note that much disaster knowledge has been developed at an abstract level, or based on a specific context. Public engagement therefore can help to calibrate knowledge to a local context, extending the impact and reach of existing research. The recent shift towards open access of research outputs and education is to be welcomed and should continue to be encouraged. Higher education should be supported to develop open educational resources that are freely accessible and openly licensed, for use in teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes linked to building resilience.

Policy: Through the UN Words into Action process, one or more implementation guides should be developed on construction policy and practice. These guides can be used as practical guidance to support implementation, ensure engagement and ownership of action by all construction industry stakeholders. They should translate the global targets and four priorities into meaningful actions that can be adopted by the various actors in the construction industry, including professional bodies, industry regulators, clients, and construction and property companies.

Practice: It is vital that construction and property professional bodies continuously update the accreditation or services needed to identify and verify expertise in weak or emerging new areas of practice highlighted as knowledge gaps. All professional bodies have created a set of professional and ethical standards to guide their members and it is also important that disaster resilience too is a part of ethics and professional standards. Furthermore, regulatory frameworks are required for reconstruction following large-scale disasters and professionals associated with construction and property sectors need to contribute to the development and implementation of such regulatory frameworks. Whilst routine and sometimes existing construction processes have often proved adequate for smaller scale disasters, a greater degree of coordination is required for programmes of reconstruction following a larger disaster and these must be addressed through formal regulatory frameworks.

Research: Knowledge integration provides a starting point for building and operationalising resilience through the co-design of policies and interventions by scientists, practitioners, policy makers and communities themselves. Standardised definitions are essential to the operationalization of concepts such as resilience for research, monitoring and implementation purposes. As such, the research community must increase efforts to translate traditional outputs into practical methods that can readily be integrated into policies, regulations and implementation plans towards building resilience.

To this end, collaboration across disciplines is essential.  There are already a number of regional initiatives that promote collaboration among higher education towards building resilience. These networks and events have helped to gather a wide and advanced set of competencies in the field of disaster resilience. These networks should be supported and encouraged to grow.

In doing so, funding bodies for science should coordinate their efforts to ensure that resources are being deployed effectively and efficiently, and to promote collaboration across disciplines, as well as regionally and internationally. This will help to avoid duplication of efforts and integrate funding. The volume of built environment research activity and associated outputs has rapidly increased over recent decades. Therefore, identifying and accessing the most recent and high quality science is proving increasingly challenging despite the advance of technology. This highlights the importance of aggregating to improve access and focus on quality.

Cross cutting: Research studies document a trend of increasing disaster losses, but the translation of research findings into practical actions has proven difficult and remains a barrier that prevents the best use of science. This highlights the importance of linking research, education and practice and there is a need for construction and property groups in higher education, to provide and communicate actionable knowledge with explicit links to inform effective, evidence-based decision-making.

On the other hand, scientific results are often subject to misunderstanding due to poor comprehension of numbers and statistics, as well as conflicting languages and terminology. Therefore, educators and the research community should invest time and effort to understand the audience they are seeking to inform. Also, it is important to add information to help readers better understand the strengths and limitations of the scientific evidence.

Links for further study


[i] United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (2015). Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction 2015–2030. Geneva: UNISDR.

[ii] Department for Business Innovation & Skills (2013) UK Construction: An economic analysis of the sector, July 2013.

[iii] Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Directorate (2016) The European construction sector: a global partner, European Union.

[iv] RICS (2015) Our changing world: let’s be ready, RICS.

[v] RICS 2017

[vi] RICS 2017

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Guest editor

Dilanthi AmaratungaProfessor of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management/ Head Global Disaster Resilience Centre, University of Huddersfield, UK (GDRC)

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