NSF Awards Grant to BBISS Researchers

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $2.5 million grant to an innovative multidisciplinary research project led by BBISS Director, Professor John Crittenden.  The three year project, under the Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Processes and Systems program (RIPS), is designed to develop the theory that infrastructure systems, with their many interdependencies and complex adaptations, have many similarities to ecological systems.  The insights that arise from this grant will be useful in the future development of tools and methods used in the design and evaluation of urban infrastructure systems and their resilience under stresses like climate change, urban growth patterns, and extreme weather events.  The investigators also expect that perspective will be gained by examining the relative advantages of ecological design versus engineering approaches in the design of complex systems such as urban infrastructure.

One of the most unique aspects of this work is its multi-disciplinary nature.  The project team spans across ten different units, from five of the six colleges at Georgia Tech, plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).  The project team is:

  •  John Crittenden (PI) – Dir., Brook Byers Institute of Sustainable Systems, CEE

  • Baabak Ashuri (Co-PI) – Dir., Economics of the Sustainable Built Environment Lab, BC

  • Richard Fujimoto (Co-PI) - Computational Science and Engineering

  • Marc Weissburg (Co-PI) – Co-Dir., Center for Biologically Inspired Design, Biology

  • Jennifer Clark (Co-PI) – Dir., Center for Urban Innovation, Public Policy

  • Miroslav Begovic - Electrical and Computer Engineering

  • Nancey Green Leigh – Assoc. Dean for Research, College of Arch., City and Regional Planning

  • Subhrajit Guhathakurta – Dir., Center for Geographic Information Systems, CRP

  • Tom McDermott - Deputy Director and Director of Research, GTRI

  • Valerie Thomas - Industrial and Systems Engineering

  • Bert Bras – Dir., Sustainable Design and Manufacturing Program, Mechanical Engineering

The main hypothesis of this project is that infrastructure systems that are interconnected and decentralized are more resilient than those that are isolated and centralized.  A secondary hypothesis is that decentralized infrastructure systems are also more adaptable and scalable.  However, the means to assess these hypotheses are not readily at hand.  Currently, infrastructure systems are designed, built, and operated as independent entities with little consideration for how they interact with other infrastructure systems, or even within their socio-economic context.  This project will develop that capability and then use it to understand the resilience of centralized versus decentralized infrastructure systems at the metropolitan, city, and community level. Atlanta, GA will serve as a test bed.

There are 4 main research thrusts of this project.

  1.   A functional model for water, energy, and transportation infrastructures will be built based in system dynamics.  This model will be used to assess how infrastructure systems respond and adapt to various stressors under different urban growth scenarios.  

  2.  A model to quantify the resilience of water, energy, and transportation infrastructures will be developed with an ecological engineering approach to resilience.  Proposed designs will be benchmarked with this model taking into account climate change stressors and a demographically representative cohort of stakeholders.

  3. An agent-based simulation tool of the socio-economic environment will be developed to understand decision-making and system performance under stressors.  This tool will capture the impacts to service amongst the stakeholders, feed decisions back to the systems model, and provide prescriptions for future development/rehabilitation.

  4. A model of resilience and sustainability will be developed for water, energy, and transportation infrastructures to assess the effects of climate change stressors like extreme heat events, droughts, and floods and how these infrastructure systems interact with each other under such stresses.

This research represents a new system-of-systems approach to engineering the resilience of critical urban infrastructures.  Developing models which place urban infrastructure systems in context with their physical and socio-economic environments will serve to bridge the gap between social decision making processes and the design of urban systems.  As the world increasingly urbanizes and contends with complex ecological constraints, unique approaches such as this project may contribute to the framing of a national research agenda for integrating urban resilience and sustainability into urban planning.

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Brent Verrill, Communications Manager, BBISS