On taking up his position as the new President of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA) in May 2016, Tarcisio Celestino of Brazil is interviewed by Camille Blain of the ITA press relations agency to present an insight into the strategy for his presidency during the coming three years.
Question: You were elected President of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association during the ITA General Assembly in April 2016 in San Francisco. What is your own perspective of the demands by countries regarding tunnels and underground space? How do you see the future of the tunnelling industry?
President Celestino: The economic configuration is currently changing. In recent years, we have faced a long-lasting economic slowdown, during which everybody tended to curb their long-term investments. Yet, and it is good news, we are now entering a recovery phase, which implies new investments in tunnels and underground space. Until now, the sustainability factor had not been sufficiently taken into account in investment choices, which is understandable: public authorities and owners do not always have in-depth knowledge of sustainable existing solutions and environmental regulations in terms of underground construction, even though things tend to evolve in a good way. It is the role of the ITA to accompany the move of public authorities in their reflection on sustainable cities, for them to think about their underground infrastructures upstream. Indeed, if you wait for your city to face intense traffic jams before you design and develop public transports, then you will have to wait another 15 years for these problems to be fixed!
Question: Does it mean that today is the best time for countries to think about the future of their infrastructures?
President Celestino: Absolutely, for the world is facing a very drastic increase in urban population that will keep skyrocketing by 80% in the three or four decades to come. This means more traffic, therefore more transport networks needed. With the global warming effects, cities also have to devise efficient flood regulation solutions to cope with heavy rains and the rise of water levels. Considering the existing backlogs and the fact that we have to rebuild or repair everything we have already constructed so far within the next two or three decades, the actors of the tunnelling and underground space sector have a huge market potential ahead of them. Faced with these current and future needs, our industry has to adapt and to prepare itself for growth. Regarding mechanized tunnels and tunnel monitoring, significant technological progress has been made within the last 20 years. I believe new actors will come up with non-disruptive innovations in the next 20 years.
A new generation of young people – engineers from various sectors – studying notably electronics, automation, big data, or the internet of things – will create new hopes of applications in the tunnelling industry. We have to welcome these people, and inform them that the underground construction industry is a key market where they could find interesting career opportunities.
Question: In your analysis, how do you think the ITA has been coping with these opportunities and challenges?
President Celestino: The International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association is turning 42 this year (2016). Since its creation at the initiative of 19 nations in 1974, it has been encouraging the use of the subsurface for the benefit of public and sustainable development.
Also, it has been closely involved in the promotion of advances in the planning, design, construction, maintenance and safety of tunnels and underground space. In addition, it has gathered relevant information, sharing the latest reflections and ideas developed for tunnels and underground space, notably through working groups and committees. Along with the increase in its members, the Association has also been working to expand its services, in order to appear as the leading reference in the sector of underground infrastructure.
In 2013, the Association set seven strategic goals to be achieved within the period 2014 to 2016. To be specific, one of the main goals was to deepening relationships with local shareholders such as Member Nation organizations. Indeed, the Association relies on the endorsement of Member Nation organizations to undertake a project in its country.
Therefore, ITA created four boards to enhance these relationships: ITACUS, dedicated to interacting directly with urban and regional planners; ITACET, focusing on knowledge transfer and sharing; ITAtech, the aim of which is to create a synergy between industry developments, academic research and final users; and ITA-COSUF, established to improve operational safety in underground environments and to promote them as viable solutions. Significant progress has occurred since the frequent accidents in transportation tunnels and underground stations of the 1990s. ITA-COSUF is partly responsible for this.
After two result reports published in 2015 and 2016, one can note that most of them have been reached successfully. The newly elected Executive Council is currently working at a new strategic plan in order to continue along this path.
Question: How does it translate into organization and missions?
President Celestino: Further changes had to be initiated to cope with a shifting environment. We wanted to go further in improving our organization. In 2013, the Executive Council proposed to the General Assembly, and it was agreed, that the governance of the Association would be assessed regularly. The Surveillance Council was established during the 2013 General Assembly held in Geneva. Dedicated to ensure that the internal functioning of the ITA matched a good governance, the Surveillance Council released its first report at the end of 2013 and reported to the General Assembly in 2014. The report confirmed that the ITA, as a recognised Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) by the United Nations, fully complies with the Code of Ethics and Conduct of these organisations.
In addition, ITA has built a solid communication system that has been implemented within the Association, thanks to the ITA Working Groups and Committees, in order to bring the actors of the industry together and to create a genuine synergy between them. In the matter of improving processes and actions, continuous efforts are made and are still carried on.
Therefore, as of today, and thanks to the valuable and regular contributions of our Working Groups and Committees, we are on the right track; and of course, we will keep questioning and improving ourselves. But I think we have all the assets and tools to appear as a solid and credible international key speaker to the whole tunnelling community of decision-makers and public authorities.
Question: Why is communication so important for the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association?
President Celestino: Communication is an indispensable condition without which the ITA cannot sustain its industry. The success of the ITA Tunnelling Awards, that attracted 110 entries in the 2015 series, the success of the last World Tunnel Congress in San Francisco, which was attended by a record 2,300 people from the international tunnelling industry, and hundreds of press articles throughout the world, were perfect demonstrations of that synergy. A balance also confirmed by the strong interest displayed by the four solid candidates competing to host the World Tunnel Congress and the ITA General Assembly for 2019, following Norway in 2017 and the United Arab Emirates in 2018.
Eager to have tangible evidence of the satisfaction of its different members - Member Nations, Prime Sponsors, Affiliate Members, Workings Groups and Committees -, the ITA ordered a survey in 2014, at the request of the Executive Council. It appeared to get a good satisfaction rating from 70.1% of the poll, which is a strong indicator of the confidence members place in it.
The level of satisfaction is particularly high among Member Nations, concerning communication from the Executive Council, the President and the Secretariat. In the same way, during discussions in San Francisco, the ITA Prime Sponsors expressed their full satisfaction regarding the Association’s activities. It is very encouraging for us, for it means that our efforts to reinforce the level of commitment by our different stakeholders’ are fruitful. It is the only way we can make the tunnelling and underground space industry vivid and visible to the world.
The world will keep evolving at a fast pace, both demographically and technologically. Hopefully new Member Nations will join us and new strategic needs will emerge. The new Executive Council is fully aware that these external factors require us to pursue our desired improvements for ITA management and external actions. New ideas and proposed actions are currently being discussed, for an early implementation.
Question: As the new President of the ITA, what will your roadmap and priorities be for the next three years? What could the ITA’s new perspective be for the coming decade?
President Celestino: My first goal is to undertake concrete actions to influence government decision makers to increase the use of underground space around the globe significantly. In that matter, we have strong opportunities, such as urban development, growing needs for energy and water supply and storage, and hopes for underground developments in the mining sector. To make it work, we need to keep addressing strong messages to the general public, by bringing people strong and regular evidence of the benefits of using underground infrastructure, in terms of security and resilience, in particular.
This will necessarily involve regularly putting the costs of infrastructures into perspective, bearing in mind that the costs of underground works are not as high as they are said to be with respect to the benefits and the returns on investment generated for populations.
Yet, it is clear that rising awareness among international decision-makers cannot be achieved without the support and involvement of the Member Nations together with the whole industry. This must rest upon state-of-the art research and regular assessments of our activities. Completed tunnels and underground spaces around the world are our most valuable assets.
For this reason, in accordance with the strategic goals approved by the General Assembly in May 2014, the ITA has been striving for more regular and substantiated feedback from its different Working Groups ever since. There have been regular meetings of the Executive Council with Working Group Leaders and Committee Chairs. These discussions have resulted in the launch of a new Peer Reviewing Process, in order to assess the solidity and technical soundness of the works. This way, the ITA betters its odds to strengthen its influence in the academic and political spheres, while enlarging practical application possibilities through its research work.