Research & Innovation

Stevens Leads the Way in Resilience Engineering

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy churned up 10-feet-high storm surges along the coasts of New Jersey and New York. The New Jersey Transit system suffered major losses of equipment and long periods of service outages, while just across the Hudson River, the New York City subway system was back to partial service in three days and fully operational in less than a week. This is a prime example of the importance and challenges of resilience, which describes how systems withstand, respond, and adapt to disruptive events.

These events range from short-term shocks like storms, earthquakes, and armed conflicts, to more predictable and long-term stresses like climate change and infrastructure degradation. Why do some organizations, cities, and countries thrive under change while others struggle?  How do some engineered structures and systems withstand adverse conditions while others collapse catastrophically?  The answers lie in the emerging field of resilience engineering.

Stevens has been a pioneer in resilience engineering, which brings together a broad range of disciplines to prepare communities for disruptive events expected and unexpected.

In April 2015, Stevens hosted a three-day International Workshop on Resilience Engineering sponsored by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a London-based charity organization that supports engineering-related research and education worldwide.  Experts from 12 countries and five continents gathered at Stevens to share challenges and define potential solutions to building a safer more resilient world. 

Reflecting the multifaceted nature of resilience, the participants brought expertise from areas ranging from engineering to psychology, from urban planning to economics. The spectrum of discussions included better antibiotics to treat weather-related disease outbreaks, carbon-smart vehicles and industries, and green architecture that can better absorb weather through natural landscaping. No wonder that the Resilience Engineering Association describes the task of resilience as “a new way of thinking about safety.”

Today, the Foundation will release the collaborative insights and recommendations that resulted from the workshop in the Foresight Review of Resilience Engineering, authored by Michael Bruno, dean of the Schaefer School of Engineering & Science at Stevens in collaboration with Ruth Boumphrey, head of research grants for the Foundation.  The review explores the potential of resilience engineering to enhance the safety of life and property through the improved resilience of engineered structures, systems, organizations and communities around the world.

“We have only to examine recent events such as Hurricane Sandy in the New York area to understand the complexity of the challenges that lie ahead,” says Bruno. “Cascading failures in the transportation, healthcare and energy sectors during that event demonstrated the need to develop trans-disciplinary solution pathways that can ultimately enable ‘resiliency by design.’”

Bruno will present the Foresight review at the “Sustainability Summit” in Germany hosted by Fraunhofer and the University of Freiburg.  Fraunhofer is Europe’s largest application-oriented research organization.

Based on the findings of the new review, the Foundation will identify aspects of resilience engineering to focus its research and grant giving, and issue an international call to establish a program to build the resilience of critical infrastructure sectors.

Richard Clegg, managing director of the Foundation says, “The Foundation is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in an international effort to better understand, communicate, and improve resilience towards safety of life and property.  We will be investing in resilience engineering, with the aims of maximizing benefit to society, while also leveraging, and not duplicating, activities underway elsewhere.”

In particular, the review highlights how enhancing the resilience of crucial infrastructure sectors can help in times of critical need. This could mean designing buildings for earthquake loading, setting up alternative supply chains, or planning for flood evacuations.

Today’s human communities are tightly bound to essential services such as food and water, energy, transportation, telecommunications, the built environment and healthcare.  These sectors are increasingly complex and interdependent making them susceptible to catastrophic and cascading failure under stress. Resilience is more than ever a question of life and death at a global scale.

According to the review, a program to improve resilience should address:

  • Governance, such as incentives, standards and rules
  • Capacity building and engagement, such as professional development, publications, communication and public engagement
  • Data and supporting tools, such as shared data sets, modeling and simulation, and decision support
  • International and global-scale networks, such as studies of global systems, supply chains, and knowledge networks.

The complete 54-page Foresight Review of Resilience Engineering is available free to the public with the aim of encouraging wider public awareness and research collaboration.

Download the review by clicking on the image below.