NSF awards $17 million to make interdependent infrastructure more resilient


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2014_09_NSF-resiliency A section of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, following a simulated earthquake shows interdependencies between the built environment and urban movement under everyday and crisis scenarios. (Credit: Paul M. Torrens, Geography and UMIACS, University of Maryland, College Park)

The National Science Foundation has awarded $17 million in grants to more than a dozen researchers at universities around the country to investigate ways to make infrastructure more resilient to disaster and disruption.

Many critical industries are interdependent, subjecting the entire interconnected system to interruption if one part encounters an issue. For instance, emergency response is reliant on telephone communication and cell towers, but during times of disaster cell service outages are very possible. Without the ability to alert the police, fire department or paramedics of an emergency, they are unable to perform their jobs to the fullest.

Within a new program called Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Processes and Systems (RIPS), NSF hopes this research will bring new understanding of the infrastructure and models of resilience. Specifically, RIPS researchers will study the interdependency of natural gas and electricity systems, power and communication networks, health care and cyber infrastructure and others others.

NSF has set a major goal of using the RIPS research to create computational models of interdependent infrastructure to try predicting what change to the system might cause.

“The RIPS investigations will elucidate interdependencies and potentially predict future infrastructure behaviors,” said Konstantinos Triantis, a lead on the RIPS project during his time as an NSF program officer. “How well researchers are able to integrate the engineering, computer, social and behavioral science perspectives will be critical.”

These studies into interdependency go hand-in-hand with the general pursuit of smarter cities using technology like the Internet of Things, something Pramod Khargonekar, NSF assistant director for engineering, said will be key to the overall RIPS program.

“Conceptualizing multiple infrastructures as cyber-physical interdependent systems and processes—as opposed to discrete components of bridges, rails, power plants and so forth—offers an exciting new paradigm for exploration that will lead to very important new knowledge for the design of resilient infrastructures,” Khargonekar said. “We look forward to the creation of a multidisciplinary new research community that can revolutionize the infrastructures of the future.”

In all, 16 universities and more than 50 researchers will investigate the issues of infrastructure resiliency across disciplines.

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