Research Spotlight: Multimodal Transportation Facility Resilience Index

Nii Attoh-Okine, PhD, professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Delaware
Lindsay Ivey Burden, PhD, research assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Virginia

Resilience engineering offers a practical approach to monitoring and revising risk assessments in relation to system-wide disruptions, failures or malfunctions. For the transportation industry, resilience measures can be applied to infrastructure such as bridges, sea walls and roadways to determine their capacity to withstand an event such as an earthquake, storm surge or design failure. The approach offers a structured way to anticipate problems and vulnerabilities and to ensure that they are non-catastrophic, and to identify strategies for rapid recovery.

Think, for example, about an airport that is damaged by an earthquake. Or consider a port that is inundated with storm surge. Not only might core infrastructure be damaged, but also other interconnected systems such as roadways, tunnels and bridges. Resilience engineering addresses the interdependencies and uncertainties of multimodal transportation facilities and provides a framework for responding to these events and resuming normal activities as quickly as possible.

Nii Attoh-Okine, PhD, professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Delaware, is a recognized expert in resilience engineering. In 2006, he organized the first ASCE symposium in resilience engineering where researchers from across the world presented a new formulation analysis of what has now become resilience engineering in civil infrastructure systems. He was teaching courses on the subject before many engineers had heard of the concept.

Through MATS UTC and its programmatic focus on coastal infrastructure resiliency, Attoh-Okine was introduced to Lindsay Ivey Burden, PhD, research assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Virginia. Ivey Burden’s interests in risk analysis of infrastructure systems, through her work in quantifying seismic risk in port systems, complimented Attoh-Okine’s experience in developing probabilistic graphical models of resilience.

Working together, they are developing a multimodal transportation facility resilience index to guide engineers in calculating risk assessments. “Resiliency measures are time dependent,” explained Ivey Burden. “We’re exploring the best metrics to use to calculate a system’s resilience to external shocks or natural disasters. For example, a good measure of a port’s resilience is how quickly cargo shipments can resume. In terms of highways, we want to ensure that travel times resume to normal levels as quickly as possible.” The team will use these types of metrics to develop an analytical approach for determining a resilience index – a number that will indicate a system’s potential vulnerability or resilience.

Although the resilience index is still under development, the research project is already yielding results. Ivey Burden’s graduate researcher, Lizzie Engel, presented a poster entitled “Resilience of Multimodal Transportation Infrastructure Systems” at the TRB International Conference for Sustainability in Transportation in May 2015.  Attoh-Okine presented his work at the 2nd National Symposium on Resilient Critical Infrastructure in August 2015 and will participate in a workshop on big data applications and resilience engineering at the TRB annual meeting in January 2016.

Ultimately, the team hopes to provide planning agencies, DOTs and public policy makers with the information needed to develop potential adaptation strategies based on their impacts on resilience and system vulnerabilities. The goal is to provide these agencies with a tool to make both immediate and long-term transportation investment and public safety decisions.

For more information about this project, contact Attoh-Okine at okine@udel.edu or Ivey Burden at lindsay.ivey@virginia.edu.