by Col Muller, Business Continuity and Resilience Manager, SA Water and the Resilience Expert Advisory Group (REAG)

Why is organisational resilience important for the Australian utilities sector? Societies are highly reliant on the continuous availability of utility services. The total economic cost of natural and man-made disasters in Australia exceeded $9 billion in 2015. This is expected to rise to an average of $33 billion per year by 2050 unless steps are taken now to increase resilience. Clearly our society is highly reliant on a continuous availability of utility services.

Recent Australian events such as the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria; the 2010-2011 floods in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales; the 2016 floods in Tasmania; and the 2016 South Australian Blackout, all highlight how vulnerable Australian utility operations can be to novel events.

Australia is lucky that it has not yet suffered a catastrophic disaster synonymous with a significant death toll, an unprecedented long-term disruption of utility services to communities and businesses, widespread and sustained loss of public utilities, and the displacement of entire populations and exceeding our resource response capability.

Australia is also experiencing increased interaction at the urban and rural interface, pushing up against limits on natural resources, an increased reliance on global supply chains, creating instability in the economy and financial markets, and challenges to social cohesion.

In response to these challenges, governments, businesses and the community are demanding greater resilience, higher levels of safety and increased efficiency in restoring services.

Consequently, the utility sector has an opportunity to lead civic responsibility and enhance organisational resilience in an effort to reduce the impact of unforeseen interruptions on communities.

But the six million dollar question is, who is responsible for organisational resilience? Our answer is everyone!

Creating a resilient culture

A resilient culture arises when all employees are willing, able and empowered to contribute to enhancing organisational resilience. They can do this in their organisation by working collaboratively to identify areas for improvement, and by identifying, leading and supporting solutions which address the problem.

Importantly, management has the opportunity to support and lead employees in working through these initiatives. In this way, the entire organisation is positively contributing to organisational resilience by creating a resilient culture.

A culture which builds employee resilience makes connections between individuals and organisations they work in.

A resilient workforce is dependent on enabling conditions set by organisations they work within.

This is an ongoing and iterative process of responding, anticipating, adapting, coping and thriving in response to changing workplace and broader business and sector circumstances.

An organisation’s executive has a further critical role to play in achieving resilience outcomes.

Management’s job is to facilitate change management initiatives to comply with policy adherence and change if necessary, foster innovation and creativity within the workforce, and to sponsor resilience initiatives through to fruition.

Consumers expect essential utility services to be available regardless of any shock to utility operations.

Utility operators and those dependent on continuous supply of utility services are advised to enhance organisational resilience. But what does this actually mean?

We want to debunk the myth that organisational resilience is only for larger concerns and provide an appropriate industry approach.

What utilities should be doing

Organisational resilience is not solely about recovering from a crisis. It involves preparedness, prevention and mitigation strategies, recovery and response plans.

During each phase, organisations need to display important attributes that are culturally embedded in their organisation.

Organisational resilience requires the convergence of multiple capabilities that allow an organisation to manage its critical vulnerabilities and create the adaptive capacity to respond to changing circumstances in a complex and often uncertain business environment.

An outcome of organisational resilience is the ability to survive, and even thrive, in times of crisis.

By embracing and supporting innovative ideas to improve asset management, organisations will be well placed to enhance their resilience and safeguard operations against corporate compromise due to asset-related risk exposures.

Organisations require strong leadership which encourages their employees, and empowers them to make decisions and to understand the important link between their own work and organisational resilience.

Employees should be encouraged to maintain their situational awareness, which involves information sharing on improvements, both internally and externally, to transfer knowledge and experience, and ensure interdependencies are known, explored and where practical, exploited.

In addition, organisations need to break down silos, foster internal and external relationships and collaborations to ensure productive relationships are developed to leverage when needed.

Organisations need to be change-ready by providing an organisation-wide awareness and engagement of purpose and priorities following a challenging or adverse event.

Organisations should develop, evaluate and frequently test and review plans, strategies and capabilities to manage vulnerabilities in relation to the business environment and its stakeholders. And this should be done in a climate of mutual respect and understanding that all parties are acting with good intent to ensure long-term viability of their organisation.

Organisations need to participate in simulations or incident scenarios designed to practice response strategies to internal and external stresses and disruptions. Organisations require a proactive strategic and behaviour posture which is ready to identify and respond to early warning signals of change in an organisation’s internal and external environment or operational context before it escalates into a major challenge or adverse event.

Only when organisations embed these attributes into a preventative and mitigation strategy, preparedness activities, in response, and finally into recovery activities, will an organisation have an ability to not only bounce back after an adverse event but to bounce forward.

Whilst there is a multitude of resources available to assist utility operators to enhance their organisational resilience, it is useful to know that as part of the Australian Government Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy, there are a number of expert advisory groups willing to assist.

The Resilience Expert Advisory Group (REAG) provides advice and strategic thinking on organisational resilience to support the continued operation of critical infrastructure regardless of the hazards. REAG has a number of free industry-focused resources to assist utility operators in enhancing their resilience and these are commended to you for consideration.

More information is available at the Organisational Resilience website www.organisationalresilience.gov.au.

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