The Defence Estate is one of Australia’s largest real estate portfolios, supporting more than 100,000 personnel across the Australian Defence Organization.
With many of its assets – bases, wharves, airfields, training and testing ranges – now considerably aged, developing and maintaining the estate was cited as a key priority of the 2016 Defence White Paper; and has been an integral focus of the Government’s Defence spending push.
Though much of the estate renewal is already underway, the changing infrastructure landscape will require procurers to keep a close eye on the emerging trends impacting the built environment globally; as there will be implications for both mission execution and the bottom line.
With this in mind, we spoke with Stuart Fowler of Engineering Design Consultancy, Norman Disney & Young (ND&Y) – ahead of the ADM Defence Estate & Base Services Summit – to identify the key forces that will influence the future of Defence infrastructure.
The Estate & Infrastructure Group (EI&G) maintains more than 3 million hectares of land, 300 managed properties, and over 25,000 buildings, giving it the potential for a significant carbon footprint.
The Defence portfolio accounts for 0.42 percent of Australia’s total energy consumption, which equates to around 17,032,001 giga joules and $607 million in annual spend (fuel and electricity combined).
This means that even modest attempts to improve energy sustainability can have a profound influence on the environment and Defence balance sheets.
“Increasingly, in a global context, we are being confronted with the issue of climate change and building impact”, Fowler said to Informa.
“In keeping with public interest, Defence will increasingly need to consider energy from renewable sources, and procure sustainably designed buildings, to reduce its carbon footprint and meet its amplified corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations.
“These considerations will have a significant effect on the parameters within which we design buildings, particularly in the context of low carbon outcomes; and procurers will need to be mindful of this. Sustainability isn’t something we just ‘bolt on’, it’s embedded in the core design features of buildings”.
Given the increasing threat of hazards such as adverse weather events, energy supply outages, criminal and cyberattacks, future-proofing infrastructure is one of the greatest challenges currently facing the Defence Estate.
“As Defence infrastructure becomes more interconnected, its built assets could become more vulnerable, and security will need to be deeply embedded within facility design,” Fowler said.
“Disruptions to Australia’s energy systems can occur – as seen in the 2016 South Australian power blackout – and have catastrophic consequences, particularly in remote sites. But they may also occur as a result of cyber invasion, as seen in high-profile cases like the 2015 attack on Ukrainian power distribution centres, which left more than 250,000 residents without electricity.
“Resilience must be a core consideration of each asset throughout its lifecycle, from planning through to the design phase. Electricity, security, water and waste systems, as well as buildings and grounds must reflect the severity and prevalence of threats that exist, including those due to changes in our climate. Future building design must have resilience ‘baked in’ as a core design feature,” Fowler said.
Interconnected and cloud technologies offer a wide range of advantages in the built environment; and the capacity for them to increase the “intelligence”, responsiveness and communicability of infrastructure assets is growing.
Defence, in particular, will benefit from the increased performance that comes with embracing technologies such as networked devices, automated systems, digital infrastructure, information and communication networks, assistive technologies and data gathering devices to leverage advances in big data and AI technologies.
According to the 216 Defence White Paper, “Underinvestment in information and communications technology over the last decade, coupled with the lack of a coherent enterprise-level strategy for Defence’s complex and rapidly evolving information and communications requirements, has led to serious degradation across the information and communications capabilities of Defence.
“Key capabilities need urgent remediation, in particular to address the shortcomings of out-dated, and in some cases obsolete, systems that inhibit the conduct of day-to-day business within Defence, with overseas allies and partners, and with industry and the community more broadly”.
Fowlers says that, going forward, a priority should be to embed and integrate technologies throughout the Defence estate.
“As it stands, many building systems operate discretely and, as such, fall short of their full potential, in terms of efficiency, performance enhancement and monitoring capability,” he said. “Future Defence assets must be smart building ready and have automation and integration in mind from the outset of the design process.”
Research into the effects of building design is coming to the fore, with environmental factors – such as air quality, access to views, natural light, acoustics, space design, personnel density and temperature and humidity control – linked to a number of health, wellbeing and performance outcomes.
On the negative end of the spectrum, poorly designed or aged buildings can increase the risk of illness, stress, fatigue, absenteeism, suboptimal performance and poor quality of life. Some studies have found a causal link between the built environment and conditions such as asthma, allergies, communicable and respiratory diseases.
Buildings with drywalls and cloth partitions, for instance, are more likely to cause asthma and respiratory symptoms. Crowded and poorly ventilated buildings can significantly increase airborne disease transmission.
Conversely, well-regulated and sustainably designed buildings promote positive mental and physical health and enhanced performance outcomes among building occupants.
“A focus on improving the quality of built environments will see tremendous knock-on effects in terms of both mission execution and the bottom line,” Fowler said. “Workplace wellness is increasingly becoming part of Australia’s legal and compliance fabric.”
ADF personnel, across the services, APS and contractors, want to work in facilities that support their health and wellbeing that are fit for purpose.
Since the tragic Grenfell Tower fire incident in London, 2017, and the Lacrosse Building fire in Melbourne 2014, the issue of combustible building facades has really come to the fore of political and compliance discussions; resulting in new laws being implemented, globally.
Whilst this issue has received a significant amount of media attention, there are many other lesser-known legal requirements to consider in the built environment; and, in a rapidly evolving landscape, it can be difficult to keep abreast with new obligations, says Fowler.
“With a large and considerably aged portfolio of assets – combined with a high-risk environment – Defence ought to be particularly weary of the increasingly complex legal environment in its future compliance needs”, Fowler said. “To this end, getting relevant data sets up to speed and appropriately managed will play an important role going forward.”
Stuart Fowler is Chief Executive of Australia’s leading engineering design consultancy, Norman Disney & Young, a proud sponsor of this year’s ADM Defence Estate & Base Services Summit. Hear more from him at this year’s Summit.