New approach to decisions in the complex puzzle of managing critical infrastructure

Published: 23 March 2020

The news to emerge from the final ROBAMCI conference is that a four-year study has resulted in a new approach based on risk analysis and system knowledge for the management of vital infrastructure in the civil-engineering sector.

Deltares and thirty parties from the civil-engineering sector shared their knowledge and current management issues in the ROBAMCI applied research programme. Fourteen cases were elaborated with the aim of seeking a balance between the quality, vulnerability and costs of vital infrastructure. The result is an approach that includes probabilistic software tools. These tools can be used at the system level to determine life cycle cost, life cycle risks and life cycle performance, and to state them in terms of net present value and social risks.

Guidance for tackling the complex challenge of replacing infrastructure

Rijkswaterstaat, water authorities and municipal authorities invest about 16 billion euros annually in the construction, management and maintenance of infrastructure such as roads, dikes, waterways, sewers, cables pipelines and other engineering structures (den Heijer, 2020). The proper management of these infrastructure assets is often a complex puzzle. As a result of economic developments, the demands on these assets are becoming increasingly challenging. They have to continue to perform despite climate change or land subsidence. In the meantime, they are lagging behind more and more in technical terms. That means that policymakers and asset managers are facing the enormous challenge of replacing all the infrastructure and engineering structures that were built around the 1960s. Annemargreet de Leeuw, Deltares programme manager: ”The approach from the ROBAMCI study provides guidance in terms of deciding what action is needed, and when. It’s a question of seeking a balance between quality, vulnerability and costs.”

From network to physical infrastructure

Physical infrastructure components are usually part of a network that serves society in some way. For example, locks and weirs are used to keep a waterway free for shipping. The ROBAMCI approach looks at the physical components and the network from this perspective in a system-oriented approach.  The new approach delivers optimal scheduling for interventions in a network, including the physical components, in part taking the uncertainties associated with degradation, climate change and land subsidence into account. Everything is designed to maintain the services that the network has to perform. Now and in the future.

It has emerged from the cases that increasing the scale of the problem – in space, time and paths of enquiry – brings new solutions within reach. The scale at which performance, risks and costs are optimised should therefore be seen explicitly as a degree of freedom rather than as a given.

More information

More information about ROBAMCI, the cases, reports, tools and a serious game are available from the ROBAMCI website (in Dutch only).

Reference: den Heijer, F. (2020) ROBAMCI – Final Report. Risk and Opportunity Based Asset Management for Critical Infrastructures  (in Dutch only)