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$2.5 million NSF grant awarded for UMD-led disaster resilience research

START researchers were recently awarded a $2.5 million Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Processes and Systems (RIPS) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), to quantify disaster resilience of critical infrastructure-based societal systems (CISS) necessary for community functioning. Examples of these systems include school districts, healthcare delivery systems, government buildings, university campuses, central business districts and other establishments that serve a critical role in a community.

START Researchers Professor Elise Miller-Hooks, lead principal investigator (PI) and Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, and Elizabeth Petrun, co-PI, are partnering with  researchers from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and the University of Delaware (UD) on the project titled, “RIPS: Quantifying Disaster Resilience of Critical Infrastructure-based Societal Systems with Emergent Behavior and Dynamic Interdependencies.”

 “Our team will conduct research with healthcare professionals to understand how they communicate during disasters,”Petrun said, “This information will then contribute to greater understanding of the cascading effects on a healthcare CISS. In this sense we get to learn more about risk communication and its impact on resiliency. It’s a great opportunity to contribute to both sides of START’s risk communication and resilience program” 

To develop the framework and demonstrate specific resilience techniques, Miller-Hooks, Petrun and their colleagues will work directly with healthcare managers and emergency planners from around the world.

“The project is unique in that it will incorporate public policy, organizational policy, emergent organizational behaviors and risk communication considerations into a broader quantitative assessment of disaster resilience under multiple hazard types,” Miller-Hooks said.

The researchers will take an integrative approach to understand and model mechanisms by which organizational behaviors emerge and evolve during a disaster event. Moreover, they will observe the potential for disasters to impact cyber systems and communication efforts, identifying resulting vulnerabilities to follow-up attacks.

“To prevent escalation pending a system disruption, it is important to identify how individual and organizational communication impacts the operational capacity of a community,” Petrun said. “For example, how should we discuss the disruption while informing the public about potential risks and other instructions? This communicative action changes the dynamics of the situation, yet it can be difficult to predict how exactly that communication will impact other system operations.”

The research group’s analytical framework will involve dynamic fault-tree analysis to conduct component performance and systems-based analytical techniques to model the dynamic network of CISS components. Their models will characterize interdependencies between the critical lifelines, building systems and community functions that the built environment supports.

“Methods to mathematically characterize the interdependencies that exist between elements of the built environment are crucial in quantifying the ability of our physical and societal systems to cope with and adapt to disaster events,” Miller-Hooks said. “As such an event unfolds, its damage impact can propagate (stochastically) from one system to another, leading to cascading and even escalating failures over the system and its subsystems. Understanding these failure mechanisms can aid in the choice of mitigation, preparedness and response actions designed to ameliorate the disaster’s impact.”

Along with the project, the research group – comprised of six co-principal investigators, five of whom are women -- is working to strengthen the pipeline of women in STEM fields at multiple education and career stages by adopting a leadership philosophy that will foster training of female scientists of all ages to be high-caliber mentors and researchers.

“I am excited to work with this team of brilliant, imaginative and enthusiastic people,” Miller-Hooks said. “That the team involves such a large percentage of women is something I could not have conceived of as an undergraduate student in the late 1980s. We work well together and build from each other’s excitement for this research area with potentially great impact to society. We are excited to conduct novel, interdisciplinary work that no single one of us could have brought to fruition on our own.”

In addition to Miller-Hooks and Petrun, the research group includes JHU PI Judy Mitrani-Reiser; JHU co-PI Matt Green; JHU Senior Investigators Helaine Rutkow, Tom Kirsch and Jonathan Links; UD co-PI Joanne Nigg and UD Senior Investigator Rachel Davidson. 

This story also appears at http://www.civil.umd.edu/news/news_story.php?id=8477. It is reprinted here with additional information with permission from the author Alyssa Wolice.