Hollnagel, Erik., Building Research & Information 42, no. 2 (2014): 221-228.
Resilience engineering and the Built Environment provides a brief overview of resilience engineering concepts and how they may apply in technological systems like infrastructure. Since the field of Resilience engineering is dominated by experts in social and systems sciences, the majority of research focuses attention on people, rather than discussing the characteristics of engineered systems and their relationships to the people that operate them. This paper offers a succinct overview of several concepts critical to resilience engineering theory and acts as a primer for each one. In particular, the paper overviews why resilience engineers view infrastructure as socio-technical systems, the processes that make built systems resilient, and perspectives on safety to guide ways to improve these processes. Hollnagel argues that built systems or technologies that lack sentience (e.g., intelligence or cognition) are unable to be resilient because they cannot dynamically respond to unpredictable and unforeseen future situations. Built systems that demonstrate sentience always provide a dynamic service that requires human interaction, such as nuclear power plants generating electricity, hospitals providing shelter and care, and airplanes providing mobility. While built systems provide services, they also perform at least four dynamic processes that require sentience and enable them cope with uncontrollable and unexpected situations: responding (knowing what to do), monitoring (knowing what to look for), learning (knowing what has happened), and anticipation (knowing what to expect). Hollnagel argues that building resilience requires the improvement of these four processes, which is best done by studying the successful ways in which people and technologies handle unexpected situations. Unfortunately, traditional perspectives on safety overemphasize the need to understanding and avoid problems and deemphasize the need to understand how built systems successfully cope with surprises (good or bad). Building resilience in the built environment needs to refocus safety to emphasize successful responding, monitoring, learning, and anticipating.