The COVID-19 pandemic and the strict lockdowns imposed in many countries have forced many infrastructure owners and operators to consider how they can reduce transmission risk in their public-facing assets.
“Where lockdown conditions are just being lifted, clients are concerned with resuming or maintaining service while keeping their customers as safe as possible,” says Douglas Wilson, Mott MacDonald’s global lead for advisory services.
“However, whether it’s COVID-19 or another virus, our interconnected world means the risk of another pandemic is high, so many clients are also looking at what they can do to embed long-term pandemic resilience.”
Infrastructure epidemiology – a new discipline for pandemic resilience
Our International Health team has worked on infectious disease control programmes for more than 20 years and is currently working in over 30 countries. We have combined their expertise with our renowned infrastructure capabilities to examine the role infrastructure plays as a vector for the spread of diseases such as COVID-19. It’s a unique insight and discipline we call ‘infrastructure epidemiology’ which enables us to advise on and plan interventions to reduce transmission.
Guidelines provided by governments and health authorities to reduce risk of transmission include limiting direct contact between people, social distancing and reducing contact with shared surfaces. However, infrastructure owners and operators may need to implement additional interventions to reduce the risks to users of their public-facing assets.
“Clients may need to introduce additional measures to re-engineer passenger flows, reduce contact between employees and customers, review processes and technology or develop effective communications to help keep people safe,” says Anthony Huszar, account leader for global health security.
“Simple, cost-effective interventions can help clients reduce the risk of transmission across their infrastructure, restoring public confidence and helping to resume or maintain service. We can also advise on how infrastructure can be adapted and new assets designed to build in long-term pandemic resilience.”
Consider adjacent asset systems to better understand risk
Infrastructure operates as a ‘system of systems’. Examining the co-dependencies between different asset systems will highlight risks that must be considered in any COVID-19 risk management plan and in the design of new assets.
“It is impossible to isolate, say, a sporting venue from the surrounding shops and restaurants or local and regional transport networks,” says Douglas Wilson. “Owners and operators need to be confident that they are following comprehensive strategies. Digital modelling tools in particular can be crucial when it comes to mitigating the risks of adjacent asset systems.”
A three-step process for tackling COVID-19
Following a phased strategy will help asset owners and operators resume service while managing risk:
- Immediate actions: Existing assets, equipment and processes should be reviewed, with new procedures employing the NPIs above to reduce the risk of transmission.
- New solutions: Employ new technologies (such as contactless payments/tickets or using data to provide insight into transmission risks and target interventions) to further reduce the risk until a vaccine is available.
- Pandemic resilience: Adapt assets, equipment and processes to further strengthen risk management. Build approaches that promote pandemic resilience into planning and design of future assets.
Guiding principles of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs)
Four key principles form the basis of our guidance to clients:
- Minimise access to the facility
- Minimise time spent in the facility
- Minimise touch of shared surfaces
- Optimise hygiene and sanitation
From these guidelines, we support our clients to make a number of necessary interventions to restore services, while reducing contagion risk.
Our COVID-19 resource hub is unique in our industry
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been collating and reviewing global evidence about the disease, its transmission, and how to manage it. This is collated as a live resource that is continuously updated as new information emerges. The result is a best-in-industry foundation to guide our clients to make better investment decisions and reduce risk.
Long-term pandemic resilience
While the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic saw asset owners and operators focusing on immediate measures to reduce transmission risk, many are now thinking about the long-term measures they can take to build pandemic resilience.
As well as utilising our infrastructure epidemiology principles to reduce the risk of disease transmission, new assets are likely to be designed for flexibility – enabling facilities to be quickly adapted during another pandemic.
However, the focus can’t just fall on which unilateral actions will reduce transmission risk. There may be several economic drivers at play which should be considered, both for the business and wider society. We can work with our clients to help them strike the right balance as they plan for long-term pandemic resilience.