Skip to main content

Towards disaster-resilient cities: an approach for setting priorities in infrastructure mitigation efforts


Making cities more disaster resilient is an important goal for civil society. We develop and apply a method to elicit ranked preferences to set priorities among alternatives for a small set of selected contexts for improving regional infrastructure resilience. Our approach is based on preference judgments from representatives of infrastructure systems and civil society, in which we characterize the key steps in framing how to select, characterize, and evaluate alternatives in a given decision context. We then provide an approach to ranking alternatives for a given potential infrastructure failure interaction risk, relying on an expert panel approach. We discuss the evaluation of this approach by the participants and views of its advantages and disadvantages. We also offer some caveats and suggestions for future applications. Key findings include understanding of what is needed to set responsible priorities for regional infrastructure resilience, and the specific findings, for the region of interest, include priorities for enhancing fuel supply, water supply, and road mobility.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. See for many papers and perspectives on resilience, although that site is largely concerned with resilience in linked human/environmental systems. Holling (1996) discusses the relationships between ecological and engineering concepts of resilience. McDaniels et al. (2006) discuss ways of enhancing resilience within specific infrastructure facilities. Recently, authors have linked resilience planning and risk analysis (Park et al. 2013; Linkov et al. 2014) and developed various means of practical measurement of resilience (Linkov et al. 2013).

  2. Note that we use the term mitigation to refer to ex ante efforts to lessen the likelihood and consequences of disasters, in keeping with the disaster management literature.

  3. Some of these research programs can be viewed at,, or, among others.

  4. Other challenging tasks include (1) obtaining funding for long-term risk reduction, which competes with near-term operating and service priorities, and (2) implementation in upgrading or siting new facilities. We do not address these topics here.

  5. We thank an anonymous referee for raising these points.

  6. See Chang et al. (2014) for the earthquake scenario, interview materials and associated map in Appendix A.

  7. Ideally, priorities should also be drawn from the perspectives of civil society, including those who may be affected by IFIs in disasters. This is another context calling for innovative multiagency and multistakeholder governance, which we do not pursue here. To some extent, the interests of affected parties are reflected in the judgments of the participants who were planners or emergency managers for the region, as discussed subsequently.

  8. Specifically, the kinds of mitigation measure discussed in subsequent sections should be relevant and beneficial in a wide array of extreme events. As observed in McDaniels et al. (2007), the kinds of actions one can take to improve resilience in systems are limited to specific kinds of alternatives, over a wide range of extreme events.

  9. As suggested by an anonymous reviewer, future work should also consider that there are other resilience strategies beyond hardening and redundancy, which could include resistance (directing the threat away from areas where it will cause disruption to critical function such as a firewall around a critical asset) and cushionability (the capacity to support graceful degradation of non-essential function during periods of stress).

  10. These include: what is the specific decision being addressed? What are the relevant objectives for this decision? How is performance of the alternatives to be measured? What are creative, new alternatives? What are their consequences in terms of the selected objectives and measures? What are the uncertainties? What are linked decisions? What is preferred? Hammond et al. (1999) discuss how to frame and address these questions in informative, analytic ways.


  12. JELC was the Joint Emergency Liaison Committee (JELC), a partnership between local governments in the Lower Mainland and the Province of British Columbia. Using a cooperative model, it focused on cross-jurisdictional emergency planning and preparedness through establishment of task focused on working groups (Metro Vancouver 2009) (


  • Berke PR, Campanella TJ (2006) Planning for postdisaster resiliency. Ann Am Acad Polit Soc Sci 604:192–207

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bosher L, Carrillo P, Dainty A, Glass J, Price A (2007) Realising a resilient and sustainable built environment: towards a strategic agenda for the United Kingdom. Disasters 31(3):236–255

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brody SD, Zahran S, Maghelal P, Grover H, Highfield WE (2007) The rising cost of floods: examining the impact of planning and development decisions on property damage in Florida. J Am Plan Assoc 73(3):330–345

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brown C, Chang SE, McDaniels T (2006) Utility provider liability for electrical failure: implications for interdependent critical infrastructure. Electr J 19(5):69–81

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burby R (ed) (1998) Cooperating with nature. Joseph Henry Press, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Burby RJ, French SP, Nelson AC (1998) Plans, code enforcement, and damage reduction: evidence from the Northridge earthquake. Earthq Spectra 14(1):59–74

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burby RJ, Beatley T, Berke PR, Deyle RE, French SP, Godschalk DR, Kaiser EJ, Kartez JD, May PJ, Olshansky R, Paterson RG, Platt RH (1999) Unleashing the power of planning to create disaster-resilient communities. J Am Plan Assoc 65(3):247–258

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chang SE (2014) Infrastructure resilience to disasters. Bridge 44(3)

  • Chang SE, McDaniels TL, Mikawoz J, Reed D (2007) Infrastructure failure interactions in extreme events: the 1998 ice storm. Nat Hazards 41(2):337–358

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chang SE et al (2014) Toward disaster-resilient cities: characterizing resilience of infrastructure systems with expert judgments. Risk Anal 34(3):416–434

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clemen R, Reilly T (2013) Making hard decisions with decision tools, 3rd edn. Cengage Learn

  • Emergency Management BC (2008)

  • Finkel A, Golding D (eds) (1994) Worst things first? The debate over risk-based national environmental priorities. Resources for the Future, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Godschalk DR (2003) Urban hazard mitigation: creating resilient cities. Nat Hazards Rev 4(3):143–146

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hammond J, Keeney R, Raiffa H (1999) Smart choices: a practical guide to making better life decisions. Harvard Business School Press, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  • Holling CS (1996) Engineering resilience versus ecological resilience. In: Schulze P (ed) Engineering within ecological constraints. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, pp 31–44

    Google Scholar 

  • Keeney R, Gregory R (2005) Selecting attributes to measure the achievement of objectives. Oper Res 53:1–11

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Linkov I, Eisenberg DA, Bates ME, Chang D, Convertino M, Allen JH, Flynn SE, Seager TP (2013) Measurable resilience for actionable policy. Environ Sci Technol 47(18):10108–10110

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Linkov I, Bridges T, Creutzig F, Decker J, Fox-Lent C, Kröger W, Lambert JH, Thiel-Clemen T (2014) Changing the resilience paradigm. Nat Clim Chang 4(6):407–409

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McDaniels Timothy, Longstaff Holly, Dowlatabadi Hadi (2006) A value-based framework for risk management decisions involving multiple scales: a salmon aquaculture example. Environ Sci Policy 9(5):423–438

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McDaniels TL, Chang SE, Peterson K, Mikawoz J, Reed D (2007) An empirical framework for characterizing infrastructure failure interdependencies. J Infrastruct Syst 13(3):175–184

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mendonça D, Wallace WA (2006) Impacts of the 2001 world trade center attack on New York City critical infrastructures. J Infrastruct Syst 12(4):260–270

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Metro Vancouver (2009)

  • Mileti DS (1999) Disasters by design: a reassessment of natural hazards in the US. National Academy Press, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Morgan MG, Florig HK, DeKay ML, Fischbeck P (2000) Categorizing risks for risk ranking. Risk Anal 20(1):49–58

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morgan MG, Pitelka L, Shevliakova E (2001) Elicitation of expert judgments of climate change impacts on forest ecosystems. Clim Chang 49:279–307

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • National Research Council (2012) Disaster resilience: a national imperative. The US National Academies Press

  • Nelson AC, French SP (2002) Plan quality and mitigating damage from natural disasters: a case study of the Northridge earthquake with planning policy considerations. J Am Plan Assoc 68(2):194–207

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nojima N, Kameda H (1996) Lifeline interactions in the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake disaster. In: Hamada H, Ohmachi T, Ohbo N (eds) The 1995 Hyogoken–Nanbu earthquake: investigation into damage to civil engineering structures. Japan Society of Civil Engineers, Tokyo, pp 253–264

  • Olshansky RB (2006) Planning after Hurricane Katrina. J Am Plan Assoc 72(2):147–153

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ouyang M, Dueñas-Osorio L, Min X (2012) A three-stage resilience analysis framework for urban infrastructure systems. Struct Saf 36:23–31

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Park J, Seager TP, Rao PSC, Convertino M, Linkov I (2013) Integrating risk and resilience approaches to catastrophe management in engineering systems. Risk Anal 33(3):356–367

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schwab J, Topping KC, Eadie CC, Deyle RE, Smith RA (1998) Planning for post-disaster recovery and reconstruction. PAS report no. 483/484. American Planning Association, Chicago

  • United Nations, International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (2005) Hyogo framework for action 2005–2015: building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. Report no. UN/ISDR-07-2007-Geneva. UN-ISDR, Geneva

  • Willis HH et al (2004) Ecological risk ranking: development and evaluation of a method for improving public participation in environmental decision making. Risk Anal 24(2):363–378

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We deeply thank the interview and workshop participants for their time and participation in this study. Research assistants Andrea Procyk and Courtney Beaubien also contributed to this project. This research was supported by Infrastructure Canada through the Knowledge, Outreach, and Awareness Program, and the National Science Foundation under grant number CMS-0332002. The efforts of Tim McDaniels in preparing the paper were supported by the Climate and Energy Decision-Making Center (CEDM) located in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy, through a cooperative agreement between the National Science Foundation (SES-0949710) and Carnegie Mellon University. The CEDM in turn supports researchers in the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Timothy L. McDaniels.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

McDaniels, T.L., Chang, S.E., Hawkins, D. et al. Towards disaster-resilient cities: an approach for setting priorities in infrastructure mitigation efforts. Environ Syst Decis 35, 252–263 (2015).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Infrastructure systems
  • Resilience
  • Infrastructure failure interdependencies
  • Mitigation priority setting
  • Risk ranking
  • Expert elicitation
  • Preference ranking