The UPS International Disaster Relief and Resilience Award: Arup

Award Type: 

  • 13,000 specialists across the world
  • 1 in ten staff involved in disaster relief programmes
  • Up to 100 staff offer pro bono volunteering

Deliver expertise in ongoing disaster relief around the world – and not just when disaster strikes.


Being socially useful and committed to responding to big challenges facing our world have been a core feature of Arup since it was founded in 1946. “From our earliest days, it was recognised the types of people that were drawn to Arup, were people who were passionate about using their knowledge and skills to solve global challenges,” says the business. 

With more than 80 offices in 35 countries and a team of over 13,000 planners, designers, engineers and consultants, Arup is the creative force behind many of the world's most prominent building and infrastructure projects.

It has long established relationships with charities and NGOs to further its aspiration for creating positive social impact. For example, Arup has supported RedR, the international disaster relief charity which provided great people to help in the wake of disaster, since 1982.

Arup built up an International Development team in 2006 to acknowledge the vital role that the built environment plays in alleviating vulnerability stemming from poverty, natural hazards, climate change, urbanisation and lack of infrastructure.  This is alongside the need for humanitarian and development organisations to more easily access strategic advice and technical expertise.

Fast forward nine years, and Arup’s Community Engagement Programme is established, with a key strand that includes its Disaster Response & Recovery (DRR) Programme, an initiative that has won the UPS International Disaster Relief and Resilience category at the Responsible Business Awards.

The DRR is now central to Arup’s approach to engaging with communities across its global footprint, using its technical expertise to improve lives and reduce the suffering of those in need. Its work spans a number of phases in the so-called ‘disaster management cycle’.

In Haiti, Arup helped rebuild 16 existing neighbourhoods and relocate families living in six camps. In Turks and Caicos, it helped to reduce poverty following Hurricane Ike in 2008 which devastated the island, affecting almost a third of the population.

In Aceh, Arup evaluated reconstruction efforts by NGOs involved in 20,000 transitional shelters, and building code regulations for 60,000 permanent houses. In Pakistan, it worked with the International Organisation for Migration to develop a construction guide for shelter in flood-prone areas following three years of intense rainfall.

The DRR is not only about acting in the aftermath of disaster, but also in mitigation. Since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, for example, all exporting garment factories have undergone a preliminary safety assessment using Arup’s methodology. 

“Arup demonstrates its values in action, combining business capabilities with passion for creating social impact,” says Liz Hughes, Chief Executive of MapAction, one of Arup’s many partners. “It does that by taking a broad view of how it can influence change through other organisations engaging their staff in this.” 

Between 50 and 100 staff provide pro-bono volunteering in disaster related projects every year. The company has also made cash donations of £50,000.

But the DRR has also brought about commercial benefits, yielding a sustainable stream of business.  They take an holistic approach to disaster relief – including both short term response and long-term resilience and disaster mitigation strategies – and so are involved with clients on a long-term basis.  This is then presents different opportunities over many years. For example, the Arup response to the Rana Plaza disaster has been global, with more than 150 engineers from 30 offices undertaking the safety assessment programme, and another 30 involved in training and capacity building.

As the business says, it has always felt the need to strike a balance between its commercial goals and the socially useful role it can play. “We’ve demonstrated how bringing our skills to bear to meet real community needs can have a multiplier effect that is greater than fundraising alone,” says the firm’s chairman Gregory Hodkinson.