News Ports

IAPH: Risk and resilience guidelines for ports, harbors and terminals

IAPH announced the publication of its newly-created risk and resilience guidelines for ports, as well as the release of a new risk inventory portal aimed at sharing best practices on risk mitigation and management for ports.

Defining risk

According to ISO 31000 (2018), risk is the effect of uncertainty on achieving the objectives, often quantified as the Likelihood of the occurrence of an event multiplied by its Impact (L x I). While risk is generally perceived as a negative thing, we should keep in mind that it can just as well be a positive outcome, linked to a certain likelihood (i.e. an opportunity).

A second point to be aware of, is that likelihood can be treacherous and therefore our understanding of the risks that we face is biased – and too often on the positive side. When we look at frequent events, we can perfectly determine the probability at which they occur and we can take the necessary measures of prevention, mitigation and response. However, for larger impact incidents – the so called “High Impact – Low Probability” events – our estimation skills become blurred. We tend to ignore them because either their impact is beyond the imaginable, or because we don’t believe they will ever happen.

Finally, we must also be aware of hidden risks due to the accumulation of smaller separate threats which happen to come together at the wrong place and time, setting off a cascade of secondary events. This can happen on a local scale (e.g. within the port) but also on a larger scale (e.g. over the supply chain). An example in port could be a nautical accident that creates terminal congestion, which leads to road blockages of trucks hampering the access of emergency services.

The lessons learned during the COVID19 pandemic and the identified need to improve and strengthen port resilience resulted in IAPH establishing its Risk and Resilience Committee as a principal strategic area of interest alongside its Committees for Climate and Energy and Data Collaboration

said IAPH Risk and Resilience Technical Committee, IAPH Managing Director Patrick Verhoeven.

Inventorising risk

Only when the context in which the port operates is understood, one can look at the actual events which happen at the sharp end of the operations.

The following list provides a non-exhaustive number of events that could lead to port disruptions:

  • Economic factors: competition from other ports, adverse economic climate, bankruptcy of a major port user, seasonality
  • Environmental factors: pollution, seismic events, adverse weather, hydrological hazards, unexploded ordinance
  • Human factors: terrorism and crime, events (community and sports events, military exercises,), industrial action, human factors in decision making or operations, epidemics
  • Access factors: marine access, land access, official inspections (customs, security,)
  • Network factors: disruptions further up or down the supply chain, disruption events at other major ports or in the hinterland
  • Technological factors: system failures, loss of key utilities, accidents
  • Organisational factors: insufficient resources, general confusion or lack of planning, ineffective communication, poor planning, conflicts with contractual and statutory obligation, bureaucracy, conflicting priorities among stakeholders.


This guideline has been designed as a pragmatic, practical tool that can be applied by a port irrespective of size, technical characteristics or governance model.

  • By accurately DEFINING AND INVENTORISING RISK, a port can evaluate its current capabilities and perform a gap analysis in terms of risk preparedness, prioritising the most likely events that could impact its operations
  • By correctly identifying and planning how to MANAGE STAKEHOLDERS, a port can evaluate its span of control and influence, consider internal factors that affect the context of the port, and assess risks on operational, economic and wider societal and regulatory perspectives
  • By defining resilience in its own context a port can evaluate the different baseline elements of resilience required before, during and after an event for the policy domain, the economic domain and the operational domains.

While the outcome of this three-step exercise will never cover every eventuality that can happen to a port, the aim is provide a straightforward framework to establish the groundwork for an effective risk and resilience strategy that offers a focus for a port organisation, its constituents and stakeholders and the port’s ecosystem at large.