New Technical Division Will Advance Infrastructure Resilience

January 15, 2015

Resilence PhotoThe critical infrastructure systems that are the mainstay of our nation’s economy, security, and health are interdependent – for example, the water supply system of a community is dependent on the pumping stations and they, in turn, are dependent on electric supply. Cascading failures among these critical infrastructure systems can be eased, or even avoided, when the systems are resilient.

In March 2014, ASCE’s Committee on Technical Advancement (CTA) formed a Working Group to begin development of a new technical division focused on infrastructure resilience. Formally approved by the ASCE Board of Direction at its January meeting in Miami, the Infrastructure Resilience Division (IRD) merges 3 existing ASCE units that have synergistic activities in this arena – the Committee on Critical Infrastructure (CCI), the Council on Disaster Risk Management (CDRM), and the Technical Council on Lifeline Earthquake Engineering (TCLEE).

The primary role of the IRD is to develop a common approach to advance the concepts of resilience in our nation’s civil infrastructure and lifeline systems, foster cross-communication and develop collaborations around the impacts of natural hazards on civil infrastructure, facilitate the development of guidelines and standards, and disseminate knowledge throughout the civil engineering community. In addition, it will actively coordinate with other ASCE entities as well as allied associations and other stakeholders on resilience concepts.

Achieving Infrastructure Resiliency

resilient communities“When a hazard actually strikes a community, how do you respond, how do you recover, and how do you rebuild?” asks Craig A. Davis, Ph.D., P.E., GE, M.ASCE, chair of the new 6-member IRD executive committee and trunk line design manager for the Los Angeles (California) Department of Water and Power. “You need to be [cognizant of resilience] through this whole design process.”

“Among the things we are looking at,” says Davis, “are wastewater, portable water systems, transportation systems, solid waste management systems, liquid fuels, natural gas, inundation protection systems, information technology, electric power systems, communications systems, and the performance of building systems, and how civil engineering relates and pulls all of this together.”

Members of the IRD executive committee. (Front row from left), Craig A. Davis, Bilal M. Ayyub, and Chris D. Poland. (Back row from left), Forrest James Masters, Marsha D. Anderson Bomar, and Kent Yu. Photo Credit: ASCE

Members of the IRD executive committee. (Front row from left), Craig A. Davis, Bilal M. Ayyub, and Chris D. Poland. (Back row from left), Forrest James Masters, Marsha D. Anderson Bomar, and Kent Yu. Photo Credit: ASCE

“IRD will provide ASCE members with resources and tools for a comprehensive coverage of risk and safety concerns by striving for resilient infrastructures and systems,” added Bilal M. Ayyub, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, a member of the IRD executive committee, and professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Center for Technology and Systems Management in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Maryland.  “For example, current practices lack the explicit consideration of recovery in system design. The IRD offers ASCE members a focal point for what we anticipate will be an increased need for addressing resilience.

“Absolute safety is unachievable without expending considerable resources. This means that failures could happen despite high reliability targets since projects are designed for finite capacities. If limiting potential failures is a design consideration, we should expect engineers to additionally design for postfailure states. IRD will lead the advancement of current planning and design practices to address not only performance and failures, but also postfailure recovery. IRD has the vision in this case to address failures beyond the reactive mode of emergency management to the deliberate design for recovery.”

What Civil Engineers Should Expect to See from the IRD

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As stated in the Presidential Policy Directive on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, the term resilience is defined as “the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions.” Both Davis and Ayyub stress that the primary need for the IRD within ASCE is to develop a consensus approach to advance the concepts of resilience in our nation’s civil infrastructure and lifeline systems. In addition, the IRD will serve to actively and strategically coordinate with other ASCE entities as well as allied associations and other stakeholders who focus on resilience, such as FEMA, the NSF, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Also, the IRD will provide leadership to units internal and external to ASCE, as well as communities nationally and globally, for civil infrastructure and lifeline system engineering resilience.

Among the products that Davis and Ayyub anticipate will come out of the IRD are new codes and standards, guidelines, manuals of practice, webinars, seminars, pamphlets, and general information. The ASCE journal Natural Hazards Review will continue to be published by ASCE but now under the purview of the IRD.

Key to the functionality and organization of the IRD is the creation of 5 technical committees, which are the following:

  • The Civil Infrastructure and Lifeline Systems Committee will address physical and operational hazard-related problems of civil infrastructure and lifeline systems and develop standardized performance metrics, practical applications, guides, and tools useful for each lifeline.
  • The Emerging Technologies Committee will provide a forum to explore technologies and advancements in the practice that increase the resilience of civil infrastructure and lifeline systems in hazard-prone areas.
  • The Risk and Resilience Measurements Committee will address how risk is used in the civil infrastructure and lifeline systems resilience context and build overarching risk-based lifeline resilience standards.
  • The Disaster Response and Recovery Committee will address disaster response and recovery phases for designing resilient infrastructure.
  • The Social Science, Policy, Economics, Education, and Decision (SPEED) for Community Resilience Committee will address these aspects of resilience as related to civil infrastructure and lifeline systems to support overall community resilience.

There will also be an Awards Subcommittee which will administer ASCE/IRD awards, including the C. Martin Duke Lifeline Earthquake Engineering Award and the Le Val Lund Award for Practicing Lifeline Risk Reduction. Other subcommittees under the 5 technical committees will be developed in the future as needed.

“I am very impressed with how quickly the new IRD came together to work on ASCE’s strategically important mission of resilience of infrastructure,” says John E. Durrant, P.E., F.ASCE, ASCE’s senior managing director of Engineering and Lifelong Learning. “We have seen with events like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy the consequences of not renewing our critical infrastructure to make it resilient.

“What the IRD will achieve within ASCE and our membership is a uniform understanding of resilience, including the accepted procedures, design processes, and standards, so [that] when someone says that something must be resilient, a civil engineer will know what it means, and how to make it so.”

Members interested in joining any one of the IRD technical committees may submit an online committee application to apply for participation in this effort.

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4 Comments
  • Bill Wallace comment is on target. Why this “resiliency” needed? Is it because for decades we’ve ignored sustainability? ASCE should just say what it is and leave the euphamisms behind…

  • Seems to me that designing resilience, in an example of an island that has two possible bridge exits, making one bridge which can be “sacrificed” to a 100 year storm event while the other must be designed to remain intact and serviceable with only minor, rapid repair. Another example is a dam with a spillway that may be sacrificed to erosion so as to prevent overtopping; the spillway thus sacrificed is easily repaired, if designed for such rapid repair. Resiliency to me does not mean beefing up all systems and throwing economic considerations to the wind.

  • OK, ladies and gents, help me out here. Why can’t I find a single reference to sustainability in this entire article? Weren’t civil engineers always building in an adequate level of resiliency into their projects? Why all of a sudden has resiliency become a major concern? Have we been neglectful in our work, and this is an attempt to right long-standing wrongs? No, not really.

    The reason for this new interest in resiliency is that the conditions under which infrastructure projects are supposed to operate have changed and changed significantly. Throughout history civil works projects have been designed, built and operated on the presumption of stationarity, i.e., the statistical properties of engineering design variables will be the same in the future as they have been in the past. However multiple decades of non-sustainable civil engineering practices have changed all that. Our resource-, energy- and carbon-intensive infrastructure projects have and continue to contribute extensively to the degradation of the Earth’s natural resources and ecological systems. Now we are experiencing the consequences of these non-sustainable practices in the form of more frequent and intense storms, extended droughts and heat waves, extreme flooding, massive forest fires, etc. And, since yesterday’s and today’s infrastructure projects were not designed, built and operated to take these consequences into consideration, they are seen as being insufficiently resilient.

    Pushing resiliency as a solution amounts to working on the symptoms, not the cause. Why do infrastructure projects, critical or otherwise, need to be beefed up? What is causing this need for additional resilience, more than what was originally incorporated into the design? Just how resilient does our infrastructure need to be? I suggest that the Infrastructure Resilience Division rethink its premises before it gets too far down the road. The need for additional resiliency is due primarily to multiple decades of non-sustainable civil engineering practices.

    Clearly, our nation’s infrastructure needs beefing up to avoid failures and disasters. But the more important and fundamental challenge is to fix our civil engineering standards and practices, enabling them to address sufficiently conditions of non-stationarity. The ASCE Committee on Sustainability has been addressing these and related issues for years. Resilience is but one aspect in sustainable infrastructure design and operation, along with robustness, adaptability and redundancy.

  • Nicholas J. Arhontes

    Thanks for the article. The info will also help us update our survey forms that we will be using for our 2016 Update to our Infrastructure Report Cards here in Orange County, CA.

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