Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When the Critical Infrastructure Collapses -- Rebuilding for Resiliency

Many of us have seen the news and photos and have also personally experienced tremendous losses because of Hurricane Sandy, which continue.

There are still, days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the Northeast,  extensive power outages and, in many parts of the mid-Atlantic states of the US, still uncertainty as to when electricity will be restored, and as to when the transportation networks (both nodes and links) will be fully operational and buildings that were once homes, businesses, and medical facilities, habitable. Dozens have lost their lives.

What I also find absolutely stunning is the number of colleges and universities in the mid-Atlantic states that are still without power and have cancelled classes for this full week!

And, it is next to impossible, to identify a mode or series of modes of transportation, given the disruptions to air travel, bus travel, trains, and subways  in major and smaller metropolitan areas, that would get (m)any of the students safely back home, assuming that their homes even exist.

Mind you, it is October and Fall here.

I have received messages  not only from operations research colleagues who lived through Hurricane Katrina but even from Italy, expressing concern for the devastation and the suffering. Thank you for asking and for caring about others. I have heard from relatives in several mid-Atlantic states, who are without power.

Who would have thought that a natural disaster could impact tens of millions of people in the US over such a short, intense period of time, and disrupt their routines, livelihoods, and even educations and affect an area of 900 miles!

At a Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington DC, in 2011,  I had the honor of speaking on a panel, with the title, Disaster Recovery and Mitigation Planning and Resilience, which does seem uncannily prescient, with the program below:

Event Description:Transportation systems throughout the world are greatly affected by natural disasters and human-created events. These systems are critical for daily activities and the economy. The magnitude of the U.S. transportation infrastructure makes protecting it extremely challenging and costly. This special session highlights innovative approaches to disaster recovery planning and assesses improving transportation infrastructure resilience to extreme events.

  Update on TRB Activities (P11-1419)
     Jeffrey L. Western - Western Management and Consulting, LLC
  Building Resilience into Fragile Transportation Networks in an Era of Increasing Disasters (P11-1394)
     Anna Nagurney - University of Massachusetts
  Infrastructure: Critical Link and Cutting Edge for Disaster Recovery and Mitigation (P11-1397)
     Rae Zimmerman - New York University
  Learning from the Haiti Reconstruction Efforts (P11-1399)
     Herby Lissade - California Department of Transportation
  U.K. Perspective (P11-1464)
     Sujith Kollamthodi - AEA Group, United Kingdom


My presentation, Building Resilience into Fragile Networks in an Era of Increasing Disasters, I have posted since, in it, I also emphasized the impact of climate change on critical infrastructure, especially that of transportation networks. This is a topic that we have done a lot of research on and even Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York realizes that we need to design our infrastructure for resiliency as we adapt and cope with climate change. 

We are now seeing that, as I have written many times, we are in an Era of Supernetworks, in which our critical infrastructure networks from electric power to transportation and logistics to communications and financial networks are so intertwined and interdependent that a failure in one can have cascading failures and long-term disruptions that propagate. And when a disaster strikes, in the form of Hurricane Sandy, we are painfully reminded that we need to design for resiliency.

Dr. June Dong and I wrote our Supernetworks book back in 2001 and it was published in 2002. When 9/11 struck, the camera-ready copy was stuck at the JFK airport but eventually made it to the publisher in England.

Now, my latest book, which  was just sent off to the publisher last week, is probably floating in electronic form somewhere in lower Manhattan since my publisher's office is shut down due to the flooding and lack of electric power.

Plus, I cannot even figure out a way of getting my daughter home from her college, besides driving 5 hours on roads and over bridges, in conditions that I cannot fathom and  that, just this past Sunday, were fine.

So many of our critical nodes and links have been affected, changing economic and human activities in ways we did not foresee.