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Engineered for resilience

START researchers participate in STEM outreach

This summer, about 60 high school women from around the country got a glimpse of some of the on-the-job problems they could face as engineers, from building safe bridges to creating a hospital resilient to a number of disasters.

During two weeklong sessions of the Exploring Engineering at the University of Maryland (E2@UMD) program, the young women lived on campus, conducted laboratory experiments, attended workshops and seminars, participated in team challenges and met with professional engineers.

Led by START’s Holly Roberts and the Clark School of Engineering’s Mercedeh TariVerdi, the evening sessions challenged the students to build a resilient interdependent hospital that would fare well during a crisis situation.

The hypothetical crisis situations – such as floods, hurricanes, bombs, and active shooters – encouraged the women to think beyond building structures of galvanized steel and glass. While the students had to evaluate architectural elements, they also had to use modeling software to understand how a mass exit from the building would impact their hospital’s capabilities.

“It was incredible to watch these young women solve problems as they arose,” said Roberts, START’s Risk Communication and Resilience project manager. “A standard door or staircase might work on a normal day, but all of the sudden, you had a situation in which 50-60 people needed to get out at one time. The teams had to consider the logistics and find new approaches to make things work in times of crisis.”

The focus of these projects – building a resilient hospital – is something START researchers and their co-investigators are evaluating as part of a larger project “Quantifying Disaster Resilience of Critical Infrastructure-based Societal Systems with Emergent Behavior and Dynamic Interdependencies.”

The START team is conducting research with healthcare professionals to understand how they communicate during disasters and assess the cascading effects of communication in a healthcare system.

The project is funded by an award from the National Science Foundation’s Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Processes and Systems (RIPS) solicitation.