Events and conferences General

Q&A – Why resilience matters with Nicki Parker

Nicki Parker is Sustainability Manager for Norman Disney & Young and is leading AIRAH’s inaugural Resilience Forum on July 26 in Sydney. We spoke to her about what resilience is and why it matters.

Nicki, can you give us a “nutshell” definition of resilience?

It’s the ability to bounce back from an extreme event or not notice any significant downtime through extreme events specifically related to climate. A common theme among facilities managers is that HVAC&R often struggles to perform under normal operating conditions.

Our climate is changing and extreme events aren’t necessarily extreme anymore, they’re more normal practice – things like heatwaves and bushfires and rainfall events. So it’s having that awareness of how our building systems operate during those events.

How did you get involved in resilience?

My first exposure to it was while I was still back in the UK, going back 10 years now. We were looking at a project that considered the risk of overheating in primary and secondary schools and what sort of building measures you might retrofit to stop it. We were starting to get more hot weather events in the UK and we were looking at not only how the buildings operate during those conditions currently, but how they might operate in 30 years’ time. And what the weather in 30 years might look like for us to be able to model and simulate some of the measurements to mitigate against those hot temperatures.

Back then, were people talking about “resilience”?

Not really. The emergence of that approach has only been a more common discussion in the last five years. In Australia and overseas there’s a more holistic view rather than just looking at single events.

Working with projects like 100 Resilient Cities, in my previous role, and talking about how we approach making our cities more resilient, the one thing that has stood out is that while there’s a lot of discussion around strategy and high-level understanding of what resilience means and some of the hazards, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of actual details or practical solutions on everyday projects.

Has it become a more prominent theme in your recent work?

I still don’t believe that we design with resilience in mind enough. Some of the larger asset owners are very much aware of resilience and what it means to their business services, but I see a lot of projects that are not designing [for future conditions].

For example, “peak temperature” in Brisbane is 35°C, and in Melbourne it’s 39°C. We’re designing to those conditions, whereas you could probably recall several times over the past 12 months that it’s exceeded that.

My approach to resilience is not necessarily throwing more energy at it – we shouldn’t be increasing the capacity of plants, but we should be focusing more on passive design of our buildings so that we are less reliant on services that during events can break down. If there are power failures they often can’t operate, so resilient buildings shouldn’t need too much services to still operate as safe places.

You are part of AIRAH’s Special Technical Group (STG) on Resilience, which is working on a best practice guide. What can you tell us about that?

The best practice guide is to provide people with information on what they should be considering and what they need to do. There’s a lot of information but it’s quite sporadic and spread out. We’re trying to pull that all together and make it HVAC&R specific so we can target our solutions more critically.

We’ve been working on that format for around two years now, pulling together some high-level reasons for resilience around particular measures and examples of where each particular measure may have been used successfully, and then where you can go for more information.

We’re planning to launch a lite version of the guide at the Resilience Forum. Then hopefully within six months we’ll get a full version out, so AIRAH members can really know where to look if they need more information.

You presented a panel discussion on resilience at ARBS 2018 – what was the response like?

We framed the session around the four key pillars that we are focusing our best-practice guide on: design, engineering, installation and operation. When we took a poll in the room we had coverage across all those areas, so I think we are appealing to the right audience. There were some healthy discussions afterwards – it’s definitely something that people are interested in.

What can we expect to see at AIRAH’s upcoming Resilience Forum?

We will have speakers covering issues ranging across design, city scale and insurance perspectives, who will talk about why resilience is a topic that affects us all. We’re excited to hold the forum, and hope to see it as a regular event where we can track the awareness and share improvements directly in our ever-changing climate.

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