On 5th February 2014, storms severely damaged the railway line along the South Devon coast, causing significant disruption to road and rail passengers as all rail services west of Exeter were suspended for two months to allow reconstruction of the line.
In this week’s behind the scenes look at the Local Authority Hub at Highways UK on 6-7 November 2019, I report on what I’ve learnt from Jon Munslow, South Gloucestershire Council, and Chair of the LGTAG National Highways Asset Management board, about how the 2014 storm led the South West Highways Alliance to develop the Highways Infrastructure Resilience Assessment Model, or, HIRAM Decision Support tool that helps build the business case for resilience.
Jon points out that for busy highway asset management teams, it might not be immediately obvious how HIRAM can help with the day job. We face the challenge of years of long-term funding decline for maintenance. Yet we are also experiencing how severe weather is damaging our ageing infrastructure, with increasing frequency, and that the financial costs and economic impacts of repair / rebuilding can be significant.
Through the inspirational story of HIRAM’s development, we will explore how this affordable, open source tool helps you identify the parts of your network at risk from severe weather, and justify the case for investment to mitigate that risk.
But first, back to winter 2013/14…
The Transport Resilience Review, published in 2014 states: ‘Over the winter of 2013/14 we experienced some of the most extreme weather across the UK that had been seen for many years. The succession of storms brought the highest winter rainfall across southern England since records began in 1766, resulting in widespread flooding, and extensive wind and coastal damage.’
There has been little let up since. Local authorities up and down the country, as Category 1 responders under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, have been hard hit by more severe and frequent severe weather events year on year.
Economic impacts of not Investing in transport resilience
A key observation in the 2014 Resilience Review was that ‘the economic rationale for investing in transport resilience is currently poorly developed and needs to be strengthened’.
As reported by the Environment Agency in their 2016 report on the Costs and Impacts of the winter 2013 to 14 floods, ‘The total economic damages for England and Wales from the winter 2013 to 2014 floods were estimated to be between £1,000 million and £1,500 million, with a best estimate of £1,300 million. Residential properties suffered the greatest proportion of flood damages, with 25% of total damages occurring to this sector (best estimate of £320 million incurred by 10,465 properties).’
The significant economic impact of the two-month closure of the rail line at Dawlish, and costly repair of damage to the road network was felt first hand by many of the 14 South West Highway Alliance authorities.
This experience meant they wanted to be better prepared for future events. The question was — how to do that?
It remains difficult to predict the location and severity of severe weather incidents sufficiently far in advance to mitigate with repair works in the days before these hits. But, if it were possible to see which parts of the road network were at a higher risk of damage/collapse from severe weather, would it be possible to justify investment to undertake strengthening works in these at-risk areas?
How HIRAM works
In collaboration with the Environment Agency and a consortium of partners, the South West Highways Alliance, set about the collaborative development HIRAM decision support tool to enable local highways teams to:
- record the locations/structures most at risk from severe weather across the network (e.g, a bridge that might be at risk of collapse under strong floodwaters);
- estimate the economic and social costs of disruption if no preventative action was taken (£m/ £bn impacts if that risk was realised);
- cost the intervention measures needed to reduce the risk of impact in the event of severe weather, and make the case for investment and preventative works to reduce social and economic impacts of future severe weather incidents (£ of strengthening / repair works to reduce the likelihood of the bridge failing under the severe weather event).
To deliver this, the team brought together knowledge and data from disparate sources, and represent them in a single view of the network. By seeing geological, flooding and asset condition data overlaid together, high risk locations on the network could be identified. These might be, for example, a town centre bridge over a river that could flood, and where the bridge is also the conduit for utilities / services between both sides of the town.
The map-based tool provides data layers from Local Authority information, local highways asset information, public data on the environment, Environment Agency datasets, climate change datasets, and geological datasets. DfT webTAG datasets are used to inform and calculate the financial impacts.
The benefits from bringing these different datasets together in a single place are:
- engineers can see where physical highway infrastructure might be at risk of severe weather;
- organisations can understand the knock-on impacts of risk across the network on the economy and society
The approach provides local highways teams with the quantified evidence they need to make more informed spending decisions on resilience measures, and justify the case for investment.
How do I use HIRAM?
The HIRAM website provides access to the tool. Wilson Pym May are the suppliers of HIRAM tool, which is open source, and builds on their learnings from a project delivered for the World Bank. It is available for local authorities to use at an affordable cost. Case Studies demonstrate the benefits of the tool in terms of securing additional funding.
What’s next for HIRAM
The team are considering how to expand and update HIRAM to provide additional features and support more local authorities, whilst keeping the tool affordable. Jon would like to explore how LGTAG can support this, and bring added value for its members.
One avenue to explore is what shared learnings there might be with the team behind the DeTECToR (Decision-support Tools for Embedding Climate Thinking on Roads) project.
Sarah Reeves, of TRL, was the Coordinator of the project, and Transport Scotland participated in the UK case study. Sarah explains: ‘this was a Conference of European Directors of Road (CEDR) funded project which produced a software tool that road authorities can use to assess the changing risk to their network from different types of climate hazard, and compare the costs associated with different adaptation actions. The final deliverables are just completed, and will be published shortly. The tools will be made available to CEDR members, of which the UK (Highways England) is one.’
Join Jonathan Munslow (HIRAM/LGTAG) and Sarah Reeves (TRL, DeTECToR tool) live at the Local Authorities Hub at Highways UK, on 7 November 2019, to learn more about HIRAM and DeTECToR tools and share your experiences of evidencing the business case for investment in resilience preparedness.
Tickets are free, and attendance is accredited for CPD by CIHT. See what else is available for Local Authorities, and secure your place today.
[image source: HIRAM website homepage]