Professional Perspectives


Civil and industrial buildings and infrastructures are the most enduring and defining products of our societies. Nevertheless, management of these assets has been traditionally based on short term actions while long-term economy and performance have been considered merely in an implicit manner. There is a clear need for a standardized European approach for assessing, validating and operating Civil Infrastructures and Buildings with full consideration of lifetime serviceability (functionality, technical performance in use, safety, health and comfort), economic and ecological sustainability. In this perspective, Infrastructure Management focuses on the processes necessary for the planning and development of both new infrastructures, as well as on maintaining and operating existing ones in a sustainable perspective. However, to have a long-term management it is required to properly address the exposure and vulnerability these assets face during their lifespan. Therefore, risk assessment refers to the overall process of: i) risk identification – process of finding, recognizing and describing risks, ii) risk analysis – process to comprehend the nature of risk and to determine the level of risk, and iii) risk evaluation – process of comparing the results of risk analysis with risk criteria to determine whether the risk and/or its magnitude is acceptable or tolerable. The value of risk may be evaluated in a straightforward manner by evaluating the likelihood of the disruptive event and its impact (consequences), as for instance by a risk matrix.

However, risk management is significantly more complex as it requires a sound background of the performance of the infrastructure and it may refer to any process to modify risk involving: avoiding the risk by deciding not to start or continue with the activity that gives rise to the risk; taking or increasing risk in order to pursue an opportunity; removing the risk source; changing the likelihood; changing the consequences (impact); sharing the risk with another party or parties (including contracts and risk financing), and retaining the risk by informed decision. Risk management is, has referred in the ISO guide 73:2009 [1], the systematic application of management policies, procedures and practices to the activities of communicating, consulting, establishing the context and identifying, analysing, evaluating, treating, monitoring and reviewing risk.
In the last decade, an increasing number of natural disasters have negatively affected local and national economies and millions of people all over the world, such as the earthquake felt in Turkey and Syria this month (February 2023). Our cities have become more vulnerable due to the increase rate of urban migration and greater concentration of high-value assets and critical government and business operations, many of them located in coastal and other areas naturally vulnerable to major disasters. The potential for severe and widespread impacts of extreme events has never been greater in society than today. Critical infrastructures have become the components of a larger interconnected system. A disruption in one infrastructure has a cascading effect into other infrastructures and eventually impacts the community and the broader economy.

Based in the Council Directive 2022/5557/EC [2], a critical infrastructure means an asset, a facility, equipment, a network or a system, or a part of an asset, a facility, equipment, a network or a system, which is necessary for the provision of an essential service, such as, health, safety, security, economic or social well-being of people, and of which its disruption or destruction would have a significant impact in a Member State as a result of the failure to maintain those functions. They include existing transport systems, energy generation plants, industry, water supply networks, and education and health infrastructures, among others.

Although NORISK does not consider a full approach to every sector of critical infrastructures, its curricular contents present a holistic and robust framework to address all civil infrastructures within a risk-based approach allowing the students to tackle with confidence any infrastructure management service. In that perspective, the market of infrastructure management is steadily increasing deriving from the needs of the Member States and of society itself.
In a context of scarce financial resources, stakeholders need decision making tools to determine best management strategies of their infrastructures.

The combination of structural performance analysis with economic analysis allows stakeholders to broaden their perspective and include maintenance, repair, rehabilitation and replacement costs. A risk assessment can range from a relatively simple activity such as the use of a risk map, as mentioned before, to complex algorithms and models. These more complex methods examine risks and related metrics in deep detail, using a variety of mathematical formulas and algorithms to optimize the results. Although the former can present low costs, the latter could cost significantly more, especially if the assessment is performed by outside parties, such as a risk consultant. Thus, the need from stakeholders to ensure that their teams have adequate professionals that may deal with these assessments.

Moreover, infrastructures tend to deteriorate, either to its normal use or consequence of extreme events. To tackle the problem of structural deterioration, efficient civil infrastructure management systems should provide an accurate framework for optimization of maintenance strategies under uncertainty and limited financial funds. Nowadays, one great challenge is to use structural health monitoring methods and concepts in the general assessment and maintenance frameworks of civil infrastructure when determining optimal maintenance strategies. Adding to the normal deterioration process, according to EU-CIRCLE Statement, it is presently acknowledged that climate related hazards have the potential to substantially affect the lifespan and performance or even destroy European Critical Infrastructures, particularly the energy, transportation sectors, marine and water management infrastructure with devastating impacts in EU appraising the social and economic losses. According to the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council, a 60% rise in the cost of damage from extreme weather events across Europe has been estimated over a 30 year period. Europe’s infrastructures have the largest merit in terms of monetary damages. Therefore, as European Infrastructures have lifelines that span in several decades, it is imperative to generate scientifically truthful and validated knowledge on the potential impacts of climate, and create experts and technicians with the knowledge to manage these infrastructures as a viable pathway for making resilient infrastructures. The main policy objective, as underline in the national policy briefs, is to move towards infrastructure network that is resilient to today’s natural hazards and prepared for the future changing climate. Furthermore, modern infrastructures are inherently interconnected and interdependent systems, therefore extreme events are liable to lead to cascade failures. Only by a concerted management system based in risk assessment and prediction modelling may overcome and reduce the consequences and inherit costs related to such events. NORISK will address such events, with special focus on the seven most harmful climate-related extremes: heat and cold waves, droughts, wildfires, river and coastal floods and windstorms. Lower occurrence events such as earthquakes will also be addressed due to the magnitude of consequences that these hazards create.

The costs of damage to Europe’s critical infrastructure by climate change may reach €34 billion per year by 2100 according to a new report [4]. Heat extremes and flooding will impact energy, transport and industry infrastructure most, with southern and south eastern European countries most affected, as a result, will probably require higher costs of adaptation. The authors of that report estimate investment of €25 billion will be needed by 2040 to make energy infrastructure resilient, stretching to €200 billion by 2100. According to this assessment damages to ‘critical infrastructures’ in the EU+ could triple by the 2020s, multiply six-fold by mid-century, and amount to more than 10 times present damage of €3.4 billion per year by the end of the century due only to climate change. Damage from heat waves, droughts in southern Europe, and coastal floods shows the most dramatic rise, but the risks of inland flooding, windstorms, and forest fires will also increase in Europe, with varying degrees of change across regions.

A comparable trend can be observed for the transport sector, comprising all modes of transport as described in Directive 2008/114/EC. An increase of current damage of €0.8 billion per year with 1500% by the end of this century is expected. For the transport sector, heat waves will largely dominate future damage (92% of total hazard damage by 2080s), mainly by affecting roads and railways (e.g. buckling of rails, melting of asphalt). Inland waterway transport will increasingly be affected by droughts (e.g. less navigation capacity due to low water levels in rivers). Investments to make these critical infrastructures resilient to the changing climate up to 2040 are estimated to equal €25 billion. For climate change in the medium term (up to 2070) the estimated investments for adaptation equal €87 billion, and for the end of the century over €200 billion. In addition, maintenance costs will rise as well. Adaptation costs will not fall equally across Europe. In this context, and in alignment with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, it is essential for EU countries to rapidly scale up and accelerate investments in disaster risk management and climate change adaptation to halt the growth of disasters and ultimately decrease the losses they cause. Such investments include prevention and preparedness measures in areas highly vulnerable to disasters, establishment of early warning systems, public awareness raising about disasters, among other. Economic analysis shows that these investments are beneficial and economically desirable.

In this concern, predictive maintenance can improve maintenance efficiency and generate substantial savings in more ways than one, such as: i) reduces maintenance costs by 18-25%; ii) increases availability by 5-15%. Considering these aspects and to foresee a reduction of these costs, professionals on risk assessment and infrastructure management have to tackle the market needs with expertise/skills in: i) inspection and monitoring; ii) durability and performance models; iii) prediction management; iv) extend the life of infrastructures (e.g. repairing, strengthening) and also v) with concerns about resilience and sustainability. As details in 1.1, the NORISK curriculum addresses these key areas, training professionals with the proper expertise/skills to play a decisive role in this market both in terms of asset managers as well as policy makers.

The World Bank’s Lifelines report found that the net benefit of investing in more resilient infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries is €3.75 trillion, with roughly €4 in benefits for every €1 invested. Moreover, the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of investing in more resilient infrastructure is higher than 1 in 96% of scenarios, higher than 2 in 77%, and higher than 6 in 25% [5]. Targeting investments in the most vulnerable areas and infrastructure can significantly reduce investment costs. Access to high-resolution and up-to-date data and information on disaster and climate risks, and on the assets exposed to these risks, requires investment of public funds. However, the returns on this relatively modest investment are significant, given the savings they make possible by more accurate targeting of resilience investments to the criteria mentioned above. The Lifelines report noted that the savings from targeting infrastructure assets that are most exposed to hazards appear to be orders of magnitude larger than the costs of data collection and modelling that would be required to improve knowledge of current and future hazards. The report also shows that building more resilient infrastructure assets may be costlier, but the incremental cost is small especially if countries use data and criticality analysis to prioritize investments [5].

Maximizing the profit from investments requires a prioritization of actions which is based on risk assessment, not only attending to the disruptive events but also to the criticality and interdependency between infrastructures. Specialization in such areas is of utmost importance, not only in traditional formats but also in novel approaches and techniques. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged society to reflect on the systems currently in place and has illuminated the need to focus on investing in ex ante risk reduction and preparedness. Data gathering, treatment and analysis using digital tools within the environment of Industry 4.0 has a huge potential in the risk assessment and on budget allocation. Novel approaches, not only to design but also to manage existing infrastructures, allows to reduce the vulnerability to specific events and allows for a significant decrease the costs of consequences. Exclusively focusing on traditional “grey” infrastructure, which employs steel and concrete, would not only make these development costs higher: it would also make the SDGs more challenging to meet. To address this concern, a recent World Bank report explored the possibility of integrating grey and green infrastructure and found that this approach could help fill the need for climate-resilient 21st-century solutions [6]. Although this approach is still relatively new, there is mounting evidence that strategically combining natural systems with grey infrastructure can provide lower costs and more resilient services. Also, nature-based solutions (NBS) are gaining momentum internationally as a cost-effective, no-regret, and flexible approach to address water resource management, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation [7].

The large investments required to tackle the risk from the mentioned disruptive events are only reasonable if there is a group of experts able to handle the existing information and able to decide between different management actions. Therefore, a high demand in the market is expected for those experts and thus an increase on the employment rate.

The NORISK programme will address several of the most critical issues in the different sectors of risk assessment and management of infrastructures, namely the need: i) to spur innovation for novel approaches for risk assessment; ii) to cross-disciplinary knowledge and sharing of information; and, iii) to enhance technical education to bring it closer to practice. In fact, some of the actual problems in the sectors of infrastructure management arise from restrictions in sharing/having access to information as to derive interdependencies between assets managed by different stakeholders, the lack of knowledge upon future disruptive events and lack of fully understanding different methods for predicting the performance of the infrastructures when exposed to such events. As the programme will integrate specialities from different disciplines it will offer the students important experience that will enable them to gain a competitive advantage in a common EU and global market. This also includes a possibility to gain multi-disciplinary experiences, which will be enhanced with cross-disciplinary working modes. In concrete terms, NORISK teaching subjects will include details about difficulties/issues on the exposure, vulnerability and degradation models of infrastructure, difficulties normally faced from the theoretical models to the real applications, limitations about the existing intervention and maintenance procedures, use of specific databases and its statistical analysis, among others. This type of knowledge cannot normally be found in the books and comes from the practical experience. This practical experience exists on the skills of the Consortium and from NORISK’s Associated Partners. NORISK also intends to contribute to the so-called adult education, long-life learning, helping to upskill the workforce and improving skills. In recent decades, several European countries have made a significant effort to improve the qualifications of its population (adult education), thus addressing historical weaknesses. Although the risk assessment and management of infrastructures market is moderate (e.g. early project design) to extremely qualified (e.g. management of critical infrastructures), improving the workforce’s basic education and continuous training generate the necessary competences for personal development and modernisation of enterprises and the economy, as well as facilitating citizens’ academic and vocational achievement. Furthermore, industry is increasingly complex and require continuous reskilling and upskilling. The availability of new tools, algorithms and digitalization of information requires redesigning of services and management options. Furthermore, NORISK will provide competences in the area of sustainability and life cycle analysis, which is an extremely relevant topic. There is a potential for technical staff, i.e. infrastructure inspectors and engineers, to give a boost to their careers by following up an advanced programme such as the one offered by the NORISK Consortium. These objectives apply to both young people and adults, as something that promotes new qualification opportunities for the unemployed and people already in the employment market. Since the NORISK is a one-year full-time intensive programme, provides a great opportunity for those aiming i) a new, ii) complementary or iii) continuous training in a relatively short period. For graduates who want to change their professional career looking for work in another area, NORISK is a great opportunity, since on the one hand it allows candidates with background in different areas (e.g. Master in Civil Engineering, and/or Industrial Engineering, Management or related fields or equivalent) and, on the other hand, it has a teaching program that is very comprehensive and detailed, thus allowing students to fully follow the courses without the need of additional training. The NORISK is also very attractive for those looking for complementary and continuous training on risk assessment, given the exclusive character of the NORISK combining the latest research advances with the development of activities related to professional practice, in addition to the relatively short duration of the Master (one year).


[1] International Organization for Standardization. (2009). ISO guide 73: 2009 “Risk management—Vocabulary”.

[2] Directive (EU) 2022/2557 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 December 2022 on the resilience of critical entities and repealing Council Directive 2008/114/EC.

[3] Infrastructure, C. (2016). Threat information sharing framework. A Reference Guide for the Critical Infrastructure Community. USA Homeland Security, 5.

[4] Forzieri, G., Bianchi, A., e Silva, F. B., Herrera, M. A. M., Leblois, A., Lavalle, C., … & Feyen, L. (2018). Escalating impacts of climate extremes on critical infrastructures in Europe. Global environmental change, 48, 97-107.

[5] Hallegatte, S., Rentschler, J., & Rozenberg, J. (2019). Lifelines: The resilient infrastructure opportunity. World Bank Publications.

[6] Browder, G., Ozment, S., Rehberger Bescos, I., Gartner, T., & Lange, G. M. (2019). Integrating green and gray: creating next generation infrastructure. World Bank and World Resources Institute.

[7] Carrao, H., Gregor, M., Loehnertz, M., Fons, J., Ubach, R., Milego, R., … & Garcia Blanco, G. (2020). GRETA–GReen infrastructure: Enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem services for TerritoriAl development–Applied Research Final main report.