Approved by the Energy, Environment, and Water Policy Committee on March 3, 2023
Approved by the Public Policy and Practice Committee on May 17, 2023
Approved by the Board of Direction on July 22, 2023
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recognizes the growing use of risk-informed design in addition to the use of traditional design criteria. ASCE supports continuing efforts by government agencies and private entities to:
- Develop standardized risk-informed design guidance.
- Utilize risk-informed design guidance when designing critical infrastructure to protect from loss of life.
- Identify and implement strategies to reduce risk to public safety from natural and human induced hazards.
- Establish core risk assessment research programs to ensure that risk management is based on adequate scientific data and appropriate processes.
- Develop tools to effectively communicate risks from natural and human induced hazards to the public and encourage public participation in decision making.
The use of Risk-Informed Design in critical infrastructure design to protect from loss of life is a departure from traditional standards based or factor‐of‐safety based design and building codes. This design method known as Risk-Informed Design promotes careful consideration of available information regarding the project’s geology, hydrology, setting, design life and likelihood of extreme loads. It also considers the consequences of failure in terms of loss of life, economic damage, and environmental/social outcomes. The outcome of Risk-Informed Design is used as input to risk management, with risk management defined by the Department of Homeland Security, as the “process of identifying, analyzing, assessing, and communicating risk and accepting, avoiding, transferring or controlling it to an acceptable level.” (ASCE Policy 437). However, as ongoing natural disasters and other events demonstrate, the public at large generally does not understand the risks and protentional consequences of infrastructure failure that a major event can create.
A concern for the practicing engineer is that the risk assessment and Risk-Informed Decision-Making process is often conducted independent of the Engineer of Record. The work of the independent board is not signed nor sealed by a registered professional engineer who has taken responsible charge for the outcome of the risk assessment. Also, there is no defined process for how the Engineer of Record is to utilize or rely upon the information generated by independent parties. Of particular concern, is the use of the risk assessment to “downscale” the design standards below published criteria for the purposes of construction cost reduction.
The use of Risk-Informed Design is an evolving practice and is in need of further practice development and establishment of best practices, methods, and definitions in order to establish a reasonable standard of care in its practice.
Many areas of infrastructure design are adopting the use of risk assessments to establish risk informed project design criteria. The application of these techniques is becoming more common in risk design where progressive failure modes and/or extreme loads can cause catastrophic failure of infrastructure systems and loss of life.
Risk management is made more effective when the project design is broken down into its potential failure modes and the likelihood of those failure modes occurring is understood. Engineering measures and associated costs to reduce the likelihood of the project failing can be determined. This information provides policy makers, elected officials, and the public a basis to make a risk-informed decision on the level of risk they will tolerate for a given project design and associated cost. The benefits of risk-informed design must be balanced with appropriate governance so that the role of the Engineer of Record, the Subject Matter Experts and the Risk Facilitator are clearly understood through development of industry accepted guidance.
ASCE Policy Statement 569
First Approved in 2023