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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Beyond Bouncing Back: Critical Transportation Infrastructure Resilience

Held April 30, 2013


Global transportation infrastructure today is confronted with significant vulnerabilities: an aging infrastructure, a growing concentration of populations at high-density coastal urban areas, increasing interdependencies among the nation's physical and cyber infrastructures, co-location of many transportation systems with large-scale and potentially hazardous production facilities, and the escalating threats of climate change. Together, they have coalesced to create significant challenges for the nation's critical infrastructure systems.

A framework for enhancing critical transportation infrastructure resiliency could potentially serve as a roadmap for addressing some of these pressing global challenges. Recently, the concept of resiliency, however, has become a buzzword used to characterize a system that recovers rapidly from a disruption in order to resume normal functions. But resilience is not just bouncing back.

Defining resilience

Resiliency is an overarching concept characterizing a complex transportation system that is able to better withstand disruptions. The transportation system includes physical, technical, social, and institutional elements that are all critical to resilience.

A resiliency framework should not be viewed as a mechanism for preserving the status-quo and returning the system to pre-disaster condition. What is envisioned is a framework that enables us to strategically harness capabilities and know-how to build or rebuild a transportation system that is much less vulnerable to disruption and better than the current transportation system. A resilient transportation system has design-level robustness so that it can withstand severe blows; it is adaptable so that it can respond appropriately to threats and it can mitigate the consequences of threats through response and recovery operations. These three attributes—robustness, adaptiveness, and consequence mitigation—form the foundations of a resilient transportation system.

Last updated: Thursday, June 30, 2022