Andrew Grainger, University of Nottingham, Nottingham University Business School
Duncan Shaw, University of Nottingham, Nottingham University Business School
Kamal Achuthan, University College London (UCL), Centre for Transport Studies
Ports are important to us. In our interdependent world the bulk of goods and the
comforts that define modern life are reliant on maritime supply chains – be it the plants
we grow, the food we eat, the electronics that we use, or the energy that keeps us
warm. In 2015, world seaborne trade volumes are estimated to have accounted for over
80 per cent of total world merchandise trade (UNCTAD, 2016) and maritime ports
provide for the necessary access. Should ports fail, significant population numbers might
soon find themselves in sever discomfort, or worse!
The subject of port resilience is about ensuring that ports recover robustly from adverse
impacts so that that societal needs are met. This is no easy objective, especially when
considering the many different types of organisations which work together to provide for
efficient port operations. Seldom do any of these organisations report to one entity, and
the hand that guides them – to borrow from Adam Smith – is often invisible and subject
to market forces.
Port stakeholders include harbour masters, pilots, vessel owners and shipping lines,
shipping crews, mooring gangs, stevedores, berth and terminal operators, transport and
logistics companies, shippers, customers, amongst many others. Their interactions, and
desire to drive down costs in pursuit of competitive advantages is a key focus of the
contemporary logistics and supply chain management literature.
Here, we have sought to explore a new angle, by asking ‘How can stakeholders best
work together to make a port more resilient?” Together with the UK’s Department for
Transport we have piloted new tools for informing policy makers and assisting port
stakeholders. We seek to help raise awareness about the importance of making sure that
ports are resilient. We believe that the subject of port resilience is not just relevant to
island nations like the UK, and deserves wider attention from policy makers,
practitioners and academics across the world.
The reason why this subject deserves urgent attention is not just because society has
placed ever greater reliance upon maritime transport systems (to which ports are
integral); it is also due the fact that ports, over the last few decades, have become
increasingly specialised. Subsequently, should a port within its chosen specialisation fail,
it is no longer certain that suitable spare capacity can easily be found.
This book chapter borrows extensively on early conceptual UK focused work by Andrew
Grainger and Kamal Achuthan (2014) and incorporates more recent and ongoing work
that seeks to develop specific tools and solutions that focus on simulation (Achuthan et
al., 2012, Achuthan et al., 2013) and information sharing (Shaw et al., 2017
forthcomming,). We hope the example of our research journey in port resilience will help
entice others to follow. As summarised in this chapter, it is a journey with five questions
and one call to action.
How important are ports?
In the United Kingdom, which is an island nation, ports give access to global markets
and critical supplies. The UK’s ports cater for about 95% of the UK’s foreign trade. In
This Book Chapter has been published as
Grainger, Shaw and Achuthan (2018) “Port Resilience: a perspective from UK ports” in Port
Management, S. Pettit and A. Beresford, Chapter 5, pp.117-138, Kogan
tonnage terms that trade amounts to a handling of 519 million tonnes in 2011
tonnage 46% is in liquid form, mainly gas, oil and oil products; 20% can be classified as
dry bulk-cargo, such as cereals, coal and cement; 11% is in containers, usually of a
higher value or time-critical, such as consumer goods, textiles, and perishables (e.g.
meat and vegetables).19% of the UK’s maritime trade comes in RORO units, such as
trucks and truck trailers, mostly between the UK and its European neighbours
(Department for Transport, 2012).
Although the UK has about 1040 ports, only 120 are described by the Department for
Transport as commercially active and of these 52 are viewed as “major ports
hand 97 per cent of the UK’s maritime traffic (507 Mt). The top ten ports carry 69% of
the UK maritime traffic (in tonnage terms) and most types of maritime traffic tends to be
concentrated on less than a handful of ports (Department for Transport, 2012). For
example, in oil and gas, containers, and dry-bulk shipping the largest port operates at or
close to twice the tonnage (or units), as its nearest competitor, sometime significantly
more (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Key port statistics, top 5 ports for selected traffic types: 2011
(a) Major ports: all oil
and gas traffic
(b) Major ports: dry-
Grimsby & Immingham
Tees and Hartlepool
Grimsby & Immingham
All major UK ports
All UK major ports
(c) All goods vehicle
(d) All container traffic
Grimsby & Immingham
All ports of United
All ports of United
(e) All ports:
(f) Ship arrivals (2009)
Grimsby & Immingham
All ports of United
All ports of United
Source: DfT Port Statistics
Adapted from Tables 0103 and 0302; Maritime Statistics Compendium
By comparison airfreight landed at UK airports in 2011 was just shy of 2.3 million tonnes CAA 2011.
UK Airport Statistics: 2011 - annual. London: Civil Aviation Authority.; the Eurotunnel Group operating
the channel tunnel carried in 2011 the equivalent of 16.4 million tonnes in cars and coaches, and 1.32
million tonnes in rail freight EUROTUNNEL GROUP. 2013. Traffic figures [Online]. Available:
http://www.eurotunnelgroup.com/uk/eurotunnel-group/operations/traffic-figures/ [Accessed 13 June
These are ports handling over one million tonnes per year, and a small number of other key ports.
Moreover, ports often have a deep symbiotic relationship with production facilities that
co-locate within their premises. One example of such symbiotic relationship are the oil
and gas refineries at the ports of Milford Haven and Southampton, handling 34.4% of
the UK’s oil and gas traffic (Figure 1a). The port of Immingham is also very significant
for UK coal imports, 19.9% (Figure 1b); and Dover’s capacity to handle and turn around
car-passenger ships, 41.5% (Figure 1e) – and utilising specialised terminal handling
facilities not found elsewhere in the UK – dominates the ferry passenger business.
While the current level of specialisation and scale helps keep costs down, and helps UK
ports to compete effectively with other European ports for traffic
, it does limit the choice
of alternative port options. In the event of a failure at any one of the UK’s dominant
ports, it is unlikely that sufficient spare capacity can be found to replace the loss in
capacity to the country in full. In some cases, where ships and port equipment have
been developed hand-in-hand (e.g. at Dover terminal ramps for vehicles are designed
specifically for handling the ships calling at that port, and are not found elsewhere in the
UK) there might be no alternative choice in the short to medium term.
There are many further examples of where the UK is highly dependent on UK ports for
specific types of goods, which may not necessarily be immediately apparent in current
statically reporting but will be known to the ports and shippers concerned. For example,
the port of Portsmouth handles 70 per cent of all the bananas eaten in Britain as well as
all Moroccan citrus fruit (Portsmouth Port, 2013). The Tate & Lyle Sugars Refinery at
Silvertown on the Thames – located within the wider Port of London river system – has a
cane-sugar refining capacity of 1.2 million tonnes per year and is one of the largest
cane-sugar refiners in the world. It caters for much of the UK’s and EU’s cane sugar
demand (Port of London Authority, 2010, Tate & Lyle Sugars, 2013).
Unfortunately, detailed industry sector studies examining their dependencies on specific
ports are rare. One notable exception is a study commissioned by DEFRA. It highlights
that London, Liverpool and Felixstowe handle 60% of all UK food imports received from
non-EU country of origins, carried by a variety of shipping modes (bulk, break bulk,
container and RoRo). The report also suggests – reflecting on the fact that significant UK
accompanied and unaccompanied trailer traffic (much of it refrigerated) at Dover and the
Channel Tunnel, and to a lesser extent the Humber ports and London – that these three
ports handle the majority of food imports from EU countries (Baker and Morgan, 2012).
Considering that the UK imports about 50% of its food of which 91% comes in by sea
(DEFRA, 2010), it is fair to assert that the resilience of the UK’s ports in terms of
safeguarding UK food supply is of particular public interest.
Further detailed industry studies would be desirable, though the prevalent use of
containers in today’s global production system does suggest a particularly high
dependency on ports catering for container traffic – especially Felixstowe and
Southampton (Figure 1d). For example, as illustrated in Figure 2, 72.6% of all UK textile
enter the UK via these two ports.
Unfortunately, very little research has been conducted to assess the UK’s current berth
and port terminal capacity or the respective operator’s reliance upon specialist handling
equipment. Policy makers currently rely on anecdotal evidence and their personal
knowledge of the sector when making judgement about critical equipment and spare
capacity, if any. Further research, perhaps a national inventory of port capacity and
critical port resources, would be desirable.
In comparison to other European countries the tonnage handled in the UK is right at the top, almost
on equal footing with the Netherlands DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT 2012. UK Port Freight
Statistics: 2011 final figures. London: Department for Transport,.
Import figures shown in Figure 2 do not include any arrivals of textiles from within the EU.
Figure 2: Textile imports falling under tariff Chapters 50-63 by port in million
All Sea and Airports
It also needs to be noted that ports do not only serve ships and trade, they are also
locations at which many people work and reside, or choose to spend their leisure time.
The Port of London, to give one extreme example, extends along the entire tidal Thames
and at its boundaries has the world’s main financial centre – Canary Wharf – and just a
little bit further upstream, the Houses of Parliament. The tidal Thames is also the
location for the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race and the location at which many
choose to moor and sail their private yachts and leisure boats. Subsequently, people and
organisations with an interest in the operations of ports and the port estate can be much
wider than those that might traditionally be associated with the maritime transport
system. This leads us to the next question.
Who has an interest in ports?
This is not a straight forward question and requires an understanding of what a port is.
Often developed hand-in-hand with its hinterland, a port offers a safe harbour for ships
and facilities for loading and unloading their cargo. This necessitates safe access by
water as well as by land, including road and rail links. Terminals with dedicated handling
equipment provide for loading and unloading. Regulators will want to ensure that rules
and regulations concerning the cargo (e.g. customs) and vessels, as well as the crew of
vessels, and any passengers are met. Moreover, within the port estate there will be an
abundance of logistics activities, ranging from minor handling to warehousing and
distribution. Manufacturing will also often take place within the port estate, too. At many
ports there will also be residential uses – where the port happens to be located close to
(or within) a town or city and some quays may have been converted into offices, leisure
facilities (including marinas), and housings.
Subsequently, stakeholders fall into four categories:
1) Primary stakeholders – those that are directly involved in the operations of port
assets, such as terminals, berths, marine access channels and land access routes.
They include, to give a few examples, the terminal and berth operators,
stevedoring companies, shipping lines and their agents, vessel masters and their
crew, pilots, tug operators, and harbour masters.
2) Dependent stakeholders – those that are involved in port centric economic
activities, such as warehousing and manufacturing; off-shore economic activities,
such as fishing, oil and gas; and supporting marine services, such as ships
repairs, salvage and dredging. They include, to give a few examples: transport
and logistics companies, port based manufacturers, the wider fishing sector, the
off-shore wind sector, cargo handling systems manufactures.
3) Related stakeholders – those concerned with official inspections and regulations,
including layers of local and national government, unions and inspectors;
residents and neighbours, such as people living within the boundaries of the port
and leisure users and organisations with a concern for the port’s wider
environmental impact. They include, for example: unions and their stewards,
customs and other border agencies, marine classification societies, local residents
(people that live and work on the port estate)
4) Port users in the broadest sense – which extends to business and society at large,
including shippers and consumers.
Figure 3: The geography of the port system is a complex web of many different
Source: Grainger and Achuthan (2014)
However, individual ports with their respective stakeholders do not operate on their own.
Traffic from one port will flow to another. A systems view of the port is merited. Such a
view also allows us to consider dependencies with other systems that are linked to the
port. Inevitably, the systems linked to ports are the supply chains of port users, but they
also include the systems of energy production, communications, market economics, and
regulatory policy, amongst others. Like with any complex system that is dependent upon
other complex systems, if there is a disruption to one of its components, it will ripple
through to the others. This leads us to the next question.
Figure 4: Ports within the wider global maritime trade system
Area of Beauty
Land Access (Road)
Economic Activities Off-shore
TTerminal or Berth
MMarine Leisure Facility
Source: Shaw et al. (2017 forthcomming,)
How vulnerable are ports?
There are infinite sources of risk in a complex system like ports (Berle et al., 2011) and
indeed, many things can go wrong. For example, UK port harbour masters have told us
in a survey that the top three types of events leading to port closure are likely to be: 1)
a blockage in the marine access channel caused by, for example, a marine accident or
the grounding of a ship; 2) poor weather, such as prolonged strong winds, fog and ice,
as well as natural disasters, such as a storm surge and flood; and 3) the failure of
infrastructure and breakdowns, such as damage to cranes and quays. Other listed risks
included industrial action, fire, acts of terrorism, oil pollution and subsequent clean-up
operations, adverse economic conditions, and epidemics (Grainger and Achuthan, 2014).
In later research, especially with policy makers, we identified a much longer list of fears
about what could go wrong. Drawing on the work of Mansouri et al. (2010) risks to a
port might be categorised into natural disasters, organisational factors, technological
factors, and human factors. To this we added marine and land access factors, network
factors, and economic factors and summarised all identified risks in a fishbone diagram
Figure 5: Possible threats to continued port operations
Source: adapted from Mansouri et al. (2010) by drawing on findings made in interviews with the UK port sector and in consultation with
policy makers at the UK’s Department for Transport
Bankruptcy of a
major port user
Flood wave /
Terrorism and crime
Sabotage, theft and
Nuclear device /
Detonation of cargo
(e.g. gas tanker)
Blockades & lock-downs
Civilian repatriation or evacuation by sea
(e.g. when airspace is closed)
Decision making errors
Epidemics (e.g. flu)
Loss of staff
In-gate / out-gate
On the quay,
terminal or berth
failures No business continuity planning
Lack of risk awareness
No system wide resilience planning
General confusion /
lack of planning
Staff / labour
Conflicts with contractual
and statutory obligations
other major ports
up or down the supply chain
Cyber Attack /
Snow and ice
In a sense (though scary) this figure proved to be a useful ‘throat clearing exercise’.
Once policy maker and stakeholders had voiced their fears about the types of incidents
that could bring a port to a halt, we were able to steer discussions towards: how best
respond to an adverse event, and to what is necessary to recover from an adverse event
– effectively accepting that things will go wrong however well risks are mitigated. Which
takes us to the next question.
What does resilience mean?
Resilience has different definitions based on different perspectives (Sheffi, 2007). Perhaps
its key feature is an acceptance that many things can go wrong and even with the best
mitigating measures in place there will always be a risk of something going wrong –
especially in complex systems, like ports, where the number of risks is near infinite (Berle
et al., 2011)
In our work we have viewed port resilience as an operational challenge that seeks to
develop three interdependent capabilities. The first capability is to mitigate the impact of
a disruption to a port by taking preventative measures. The second is to provide and
maintain an acceptable level of service during disruption. The third is to bounce back after
a shock and return to normal service levels. This view was informed by relevant academic
literature, such as that of (Mansouri et al., 2010), and developed in close consultation with
the UK’s Department for Transport and its south-east ports policy groups (with members
from most of the UK’s largest ports). Our subsequent understanding of port resilience is
not dissimilar from the concept of Business Continuity (ISO 22301), which concerns itself
with an organisations ability to recover from an adverse event. However, rather than
focusing on an individual business, our unit of analysis is the wider port system and it’s
linked and dependent systems (Figure 4).
If we focus our efforts on the role of ports in serving maritime supply chains, then the
main input and output is the throughput of goods. If this can be captured during a
disruptive event, then the resilience of the system can be measured as a metric of the loss
in throughput or by the time period of disruption (see Figure 6).
In the above model, one of the key challenges is to work out what each of the various
stakeholders’ maximum tolerable period of disruption might be. And what their responses
might be if throughput levels were impaired for the short term, medium term or even long
term. Views amongst stakeholders differ significantly. For example, if a port is severely
impaired, a shipping line might simply respond by not calling at it. Depending on the
instructions of the cargo owners it may choose to ship to an alternative port – providing a
suitable port can be found, and whether that port can meet the cargo owner’s recruitments
in terms of cost and service. When dealing with many unknowns – whether the unknowns
are known unknowns, or unknown unknowns – we have found that the response can often
be to just hope for the best (rather like the proverbial ostrich who buries the head in the
In our work we also became aware that seemingly simple information was not known,
such as the maximum capacity of a port, the potential to quickly develop spare capacity,
or the capabilities of alternative ports and their linked systems (such as the availability of
road and rail services to back-haul cargo). It also transpired that those who might be best
placed to mitigate a risk may not necessarily have the greatest stake in the mitigating the
outcome should that risk unfold. For example, a vessel owner may be best placed to make
sure that the ship’s engine is working well. But, should that ship loose power and cause a
marine accident in the marine access channel, then the subsequent channel closure will
impact on the terminal operator’s ability to turnaround ships. And, the wider business
community may have to bear the cost of significant supply chain disruptions. However,
the ship owner does not necessarily feel the pressure to avid this as much as the other
Figure 6: Resilience metrics
Source: Achuthan et al. (2012)
How can ports prepare themselves?
Resilience of infrastructure systems has been studied and, inspiration can be taken from
other complex systems. Common strategies for resilience include enhancing the
adaptability, agility and flexibility of the system (Sheffi, 2007). A ports resilient framework
requires both pro-active strategies and a decision analysis method for such investments.
However, with infinite sources of risk (Berle et al., 2011) reactive resilient strategies are
equally important. This requires understanding the dynamics of the port system under
Since the topic of port resilience is still being developed, it is difficult to generalise. What
we can do, is share insight into the outcomes of our research. Both our projects have been
collaborations between the University of Nottingham, UCL and the UK’s Department for
Transport. The first seeks to develop simulation as a tool for improving port resilience. The
second looks at information sharing as a tool for improving resilience. We hope these two
examples of investigation into port resilience and the prototype tools we have developed
will lead to better resilience planning and preparation – and provide inspiration for further
Simulation as a tool for improving port resilience
Simulation models have been widely used to study port operations and usually tend to
focus on modelling specific parts of port operations, majority on container terminal
operations, and suggest methods to improve its design and efficiency (Mat Tahar and
Hussain, 2000, Shabayek and Yeung, 2002). Most of them followed the discrete-event
approach of simulation and have focussed on normal operation scenario rather than crisis
Period of disruption
conditions, which was our main focus. Also with the development of computer processing
powers, commercial software platforms such as AnyLogic , a multi-paradigm simulation
model supporting System dynamics, Discrete-event and Agent based modelling method,
allowing for mixed methods to be used in developing a single hybrid model, that are highly
interactive with a visual animation. These models can simulate any real world operations,
processes and behaviours to produce outputs for changes much rapidly that allows for
simulating complex interdependent operations and to be used as a decision support tools
in stakeholder participatory workshops.
Using these advancements in simulation tools, we developed MARS – A Methodology for
Assessing Resilience of Seaports (Achuthan et al., 2013) as a resilience planning tool for
UK port stakeholders. It has two key elements: I) a port operations simulation model
based on AnyLogic that visually simulates both wet and dry side port operations such as
ship arrivals, pilotage, towage, loading/unloading, cargo storage and transport to
hinterland by rail/trucks and flexible to be adapted to any specific port (Figure 7); II) a
stakeholder participatory method using the model to develop resilience plans and
strategies (Figure 8).
Figure 7: MARS model for Port of London
The port simulation model of MARS allows for its parameters and variable values to be
observed visually and changed interactively during the simulation to create any disruption
scenario. The model outputs the consequence to individual port stakeholders in terms of
business impacts such as reduction in throughput of cargo, delays to operations etc. and
the overall port system in terms of the period of disruption and recovery times (for
response actions). The consequences are presented as a resilience curve as shown in
Figure 6 allowing stakeholders to assess their resilience for scenarios with and without
MARS has been tested and trialled with major UK ports, that include the Port of London
and Immingham. In both the ports, we ran stakeholder participatory workshops involving
all key stakeholders using the respective MARS models. A number of scenarios were tested
for resilience planning that include part closure of navigation channels, disruption to rail
operations, lack of resources for key operations such as pilotage/towage due to pandemic
Figure 8: MARS - Stakeholder participatory method
Discuss events with
map the spread of
Discuss the impacts/
model with input
states of processes/
resources for the
Change states of
Loss in throughput
Economic loss etc
Is the system/
MARS with its visual simulation of all the port operations allowed the primary and
dependent stakeholders to understand the port system as a whole, their interdependencies
and critical links and how these influence the periods of disruption and recovery times for
incidents. The workshop sessions proved to be highly successful in demonstrating the
benefits of a MARS in the effectiveness of port stakeholders joint planning for response
and recovery actions to manage risk scenarios. MARS was also adapted and extended to
simulate multiple port disruptions and assess impacts to food supply chains allowing UK
Government and the food industry stakeholders to plan for such scenarios (Achuthan et
Information sharing for port resilience planning
The port resilience planning literature and the wider disaster resilience literature both
contain little research on information sharing in terms of the interdependencies between
port stakeholders. But what there is suggests that the complex relationships between
stakeholders may help as well as hinder information sharing for mutual assistance.
There has been some research about how information is shared when dealing with crises
and disasters. For example, Bharosa et al. (2010) looked at how information sharing can
help coordination. They found several types of obstacles including organisational silos,
privacy issues, few incentives to share, a lack of platforms to enable sharing, security
issues, lack of opportunity, conflicts of interest, information quality and information
overload. A key finding was that a significant mismatch between the information required
by an information user and the information supplier’s understanding of this. Information
suppliers do not know what information users need, they do not even know what
information users are out there, or that they even exist. A parallel can be drawn with
websites. There are millions of websites on the web, but you do not know which ones have
the information which you need, or even whether it exists.
Other research deals with the within crisis period rather than resilience planning before a
crisis. For example, Chewning et al. (2013) investigated communicating with the public
during crises. Hassan Ibrahim and Allen (2012) investigated the relationship between trust
and information sharing during crises. Finally, Allen et al. (2014) researched information
sharing in high velocity crisis environments and Chen et al. (2008) developed emergency
data standards for information sharing during crises. Researchers are also beginning to
investigate the very strong interdependencies between port stakeholders. They are very
strong because port stakeholders rely heavily on each other for resources such as port
services or the supply of people and cargo and information. A disaster which destroys
some capabilities can have the ‘knock-on’ effect of removing other capabilities from the
port system (Hsieh et al., 2014). Also, the complex interlinking of port stakeholders gives
the opportunity for mutual help between stakeholders (Akakura et al., 2015). But these
complex interdependencies which link stakeholders also make it difficult to understand
how their interlinked operations would be effected by crises (Comfort et al., 2001, Welsh,
In our research we talked to many different ports stakeholders including the UK port
authorities, logistics companies, the owners of vehicles and ships, stevadores, and
government agencies (Shaw et al., 2017 forthcomming,). The main problem in planning
for greater port resilience is that crises are unforecastable. So it is impossible to know
which capabilities might be lost or reduced. Or which cranes might be damaged; which rail
and road routes might be blocked; which bridges and tunnels might be broken; which key
people might be sick, injured or just not able to get to work; or which crucial consumables
might run out. We think in terms of port stakeholders’ capabilities because our objective
is to preserve a port’s capability to receive, process and transfer cargoes. The concept of
capabilities enables us to think in terms of business processes and how each ports
stakeholder contributes its own capabilities to the overall capability of the port to act as a
Unfortunately the problem of forecasting which capabilities might be lost is amplified by
the specificity of the different capabilities concerned. Specialised capabilities include
specialised cargo handling equipment and systems or the specialisation of whole ports for
specific cargoes such as roll-on-roll-off cargoes, foot passengers or bulk materials. A loss
of a specialised piece of equipment which might not be available nearby is much more
serious than the loss of a common piece of equipment that is easily replaced. On a higher
level, the same is true for the loss of a specialised port. Specialisation reduces the number
of alternatives, it reduces the ease and availability of replacement capabilities. Pre-
planning is even more crucial for maintaining resilience when it is harder to access
replacement machines, consumables, staff, transport routes, different ports or other
capabilities. So in resilience planning what stakeholders need to know is where they can
get replacement or new alternative capabilities. Therefore, our research problem became
‘How can ports stakeholders plan to get the specific information they will need when they
do not know exactly which information it will be?’
For example, an information user in a crisis might be a shipping firm that needs to know
which other ports have specialist unloading capabilities and some spare capacity, so the
ship can divert as soon as it hears that the scheduled port is severely disrupted or closed
(e.g. because of flooding). Or an information user might be the port operator that wants
to know where to get equipment to mitigate damages (e.g. emergency pumping
equipment to remove floodwaters). Other information might be useful such as how to get
temporary changes to transport regulations during an emergency. For example,
subsequent to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, millions of UK holiday
makers were stranded on mainland Europe. To enable their return, the UK government
granted a temporary derogations for ferry crew to passenger ratios and minimum lifeboat
requirements in order to increase the number of permitted passengers on UK bound
Our investigations looked for some shared context that would enable an information user
to be easily linked with the information suppliers who possessed the information that the
information user needed. For example, a specialised coal port (information user) would
find it very useful to have prior warning if a coal cargo that it was about to receive from a
shipping company (information supplier) was from Columbia or from Russia. This is
because coal from Russia might be frozen solid and has very different (and lengthier)
handling requirements. We encountered many such ‘information silos’ between ports
stakeholders. So, we were looking to find a way of linking the information needed by an
information user with the right information supplier – even though the information needed
was dependent on unforecastable crises and was very specific in nature. What we found
was that the geographical ‘flowpath’ of physical cargoes could be a shared context for all
Any organisation with a stake in the transport of a particular cargo is interested in part
but usually not all of the route of the cargo’s physical journey. For example, flowpaths are
the physical routes of goods from farm to store. They are made up of the linked capabilities
which grow, process and transport foods from agri-subsystems to consumers. The
commonality that flowpaths embody enabled us to start to develop a simple web-based
Geographic Information System (GIS) for matching information users with the correct
information owners (suppliers). Our idea of flowpaths will enable information suppliers to
add information to a database and information users to access the specific parts of it that
they need. We are building a GIS system that is called MARVIN and it will help to match
information users with the correct information suppliers in resilience planning situations.
A call to action
Ports are important, but complex. They have many different stakeholders, often with
different priorities and different options when disruptive events unfold. While risks can
be mitigated through preventative measures, foreseen and unforeseen risks remain.
Thus, there needs to be much more work on how best to respond during an adverse
event as well as recover from that event.
In all our research activities it was apparent that many parties are indeed concerned
about resilience. Some have even made significant efforts to explore mitigating
measures. What we found though was that the visibility of risks beyond immediate
organisational boundaries remained a challenge and was often subject to second
guessing, or put aside because it was too difficult to even contemplate. Thus, we sense
that a greater shared understanding of ports as a system (as opposed to a single piece
of infrastructure or organisation) can go a long way to identifying risks which transcend
organisational boundaries. Inevitably, this requires stakeholders to come together. Trade
associations, government authorities – and researchers – have a role to play.
We found that the tools we developed to help simulate events, and to map information
requirements, can be helpful. We also saw that the interactions between stakeholders,
which our tools supported, helped to build tacit awareness and knowledge – which can
be invaluable when adverse situations unfold. Contingency plans that span organisational
boundaries are essential. Regular exercises help to test those plans, as are “wash-up”
exercises where port stakeholders come together to learn from previous adverse events
(and near misses). Opportunities for the latter might be more frequent than one might
suspect. Some events may be minor and frequent, such as near miss marine accidents.
Others can be significantly more major, such as prolonged industrial action or a natural
We have developed a powerful tool for information sharing in port resilience planning
and a sophisticated simulation tool to help stakeholders to think through the outcomes of
possible responses for themselves and for others. These tools should be shared and
improved. Also, government policy makers and researchers can help to provide the
space for stakeholders to come together, and help to untangle vested interests from
those that safeguard the port as a valuable shared system system. We can imagine that
the scope for further innovation might include the development of: resilience
performance measures, educations and training tools, port resilience management
standards, educational tools, techniques to better make use of planning information that
is already in the public domain, and more.
Currently ports are insufficiently safeguarded from crises, they are highly specialised,
indispensable to society, and they are not necessarily resilient. And, the list of things
that could go wrong is long indeed. Since we started our work back in 2010 we also
sensed a perceived increase in the risk of adverse events arising – perhaps aided by our
work, but more likely an reflection of recent major incidences, that include: a tsunami
and the Fukushima incident in Japan, a major storm surge along the UK’s North Sea
coast December 2013, ongoing reports in the media about cyber-attacks, uncertainties
in the economic and political landscapes, unusual weather patterns, challenging
industrial relations, winter flue outbreaks, and more. We strongly feel that port resilience
deserves further attention and it would be wonderful to see the subject grow and take on
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This Book Chapter has been published as
Grainger, Shaw and Achuthan (2018) “Port Resilience: a perspective from UK ports” in Port
Management, S. Pettit and A. Beresford, Chapter 5, pp.117-138, Kogan