Engineer in disaster response effort (credit RedR)

Government says engineers play 'crucial' role in disaster response

The UK engineering sector has a ‘crucial’ role to play in responding to natural and man-made disasters.

Addressing CEOs and senior directors of leading engineering firms and institutions including Mott MacDonald, Arup, MWH, AECOM, CH2M and the IET, International Development Minister Alan Duncan said: “Engineers and engineering companies are a crucial centre of instant disaster response; there are so many examples of where [engineering] skills can help.”

Support from the engineering community would assist the UK in making its disaster response effort “the very best in the world”, Mr Duncan added.

The Minister was taking part in talks hosted by the Department for International Development (DFID) and facilitated by disaster relief charity RedR on 10 May to explore how the engineering sector and government can work together to improve response to humanitarian crises caused by floods, drought, earthquakes or conflict.

In a lively discussion, executives and government officials identified a number of common goals and challenges, including the need for greater understanding of the ‘culture of modern humanitarianism’ in the engineering sector and awareness of how disaster response works in practice;

They called for stronger technical partnerships between government, the engineering sector and NGOs, particularly in the planning phase of disaster response and recovery.

They added that there should be better awareness of the unique skills and competencies the engineering sector can bring to the various phases of disaster response – as well as recognition of the legal and financial limitations on private sector companies and their personnel, and greater awareness that, to promote a sustainable relief effort, companies need to make a profit, however small.

Jo da Silva, director of international development at engineering company Arup said: “It has taken years to get to the point where DFID is inviting engineering firms to sit around the table.

“It’s an important step that started more than 30 years ago when RedR was founded; by flagging that engineers are useful in emergencies, as well as doctors.”

RedR’s Chief Executive, Martin McCann, said: “The role of engineers in emergencies is as important today as it was in the 1980s.

“What has changed over three decades is the context. Humanitarian response is very different in 2012, but it still needs cutting-edge engineering thinking, planning, coordination, innovation, leadership and skills.

“That’s what the engineering sector – including the engineering sector at a local level – can bring to the table, helping to save and rebuild more lives when disaster strikes.”

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