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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

Resiliency Requires a Shift to Planned Redundancy

Friday, July 19, 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
  • the escalating threats of climate change.

Together, they have combined to create significant challenges for the nation's critical infrastructure systems.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center, hosted "Beyond Bouncing Back: A Roundtable on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Resilience" to explore resiliency in the context of challenges facing the nation's transportation system. The experts concurred that resiliency requires a change in focus from near-perfect efficiency to planned redundancy, flexibility, fault-tolerance, and resourcefulness. With a resilient approach, we can rebuild better—and smarter—recognizing that no infrastructure exists in isolation. Resiliency will make our future infrastructure reliable, sustainable, and survivable.

"Our infrastructures are becoming increasingly dependent on information technology and networks, and the interdependencies among transportation, the power grid, our communications systems, and other infrastructures are complex," said Gregory D. Winfree, deputy administrator, U.S. DOT, Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

"Our infrastructure is one of many post-World War II systems exhibiting a 'fracture-critical' failure pattern: they are efficient but unsustainable, have no built-in redundancies, and will fail," stated Dr. Thomas Fisher, dean, College of Design, University of Minnesota. In situations where this type of failure or collapse is common, we can learn from nature about how to recover.

Dr. Christine Pommerening, an expert on resiliency in organizations, systems and communities, concurred. "Balancing prevent protection and adaptive resilience enables us to be error-tolerant, by learning from each failure to improve performance," said Pommerening.

A valuable state and local perspective was provided by Randell Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and Vivien Li, president of The Boston Harbor Association. "Transportation authorities must make hard choices about where to invest and what user impacts to accept. Resiliency is one priority among many," said Iwasaki.

"Essential elements of future preparedness should include balancing robustness with flexibility," stated Vivien Li. "If Superstorm Sandy had hit Boston 5 ½ hours earlier, at high tide, 30 percent of Boston's land mass would have been flooded."

Review the final summary report on the roundtable, "Beyond Bouncing Back."

Review the new executive summary report by Volpe researcher Dr. Bahar Barami: Infrastructure Resiliency a Risk Based Framework.

For further information, please contact Ellen Bell, director of Strategic Initiatives for Research and Innovation.

Bridge being repaired.