Lizzy Warner and Maria RobsonTwo Global Resilience Institute Doctoral Research Assistants took home the top prize for best graduate poster at The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Centers of Excellence (COE) Summit on Thursday.

The poster, presented by Maria Robson and Lizzy Warner, explored a network science and ArcGIS approach to enhance resilient critical infrastructure governance. The research focuses on providing policymakers and infrastructure owners and operators with tools to build a comprehensive understanding of critical infrastructure interdependencies, in order to build resilience and limit disruptions in one system from cascading into another.

ABSTRACT: Critical infrastructure, as identified by the United States Department of Homeland Security, is vital to functioning and flourishing societies. As infrastructure has expanded over the past century, U.S. municipalities have become increasingly reliant on systems that spans across many jurisdictions, ranging from local to state-level and even national-level policy areas. Due to this interconnectivity, a disruption to one part of a system can quickly cascade across a city or region. In this research project, the Global Resilience Institute has developed an initial governance framework to assist with recovery of critical infrastructure in the face of a hazard as well as approaches to build resilience and safeguard assets before disasters take place. The framework includes: generating regional conversation about interdependence, learning lessons from other regions, and engaging public officials, private corporations, and regional associations. We propose the use of interactive mapping to locate critical infrastructure and disseminate information to stakeholders who might not yet be aware that they will be affected. As part of this research we use Boston as a case study to develop an initial critical infrastructure map, with the aim to scale the map to encompass the contiguous United States. In addition, we propose the use of a network science based mapping technique to simulate cascading hazards. Through these combined mapping techniques, our framework suggests equitable information distribution has the ability to create more resilient cities with lower maintenance and upfront costs. The distribution and use of our maps to locate resources and simulate loss of functionality provide a unique resource to decision makers prior to and during a hazard event, while our framework provides guidelines for engaging and informing stakeholders to improve disaster response and pre-disaster mitigation.

Robson is currently pursuing her PhD in Northeastern University’s Political Science Department and Warner is pursuing her PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering as part of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. Both students were presented with awards and interviewed for a video being produced by this year’s host school, George Mason University.

“We saw an opportunity for interdisciplinary research – blending Lizzy’s engineering expertise with my political science and security background – to address complex challenges to resilience,” said Robson. “At the DHS COE Summit, a key theme was the challenge that research often operates in silos; our project takes a ‘system of systems’ approach to critical infrastructure resilience. In the event of a disaster, law enforcement officials need to know which stakeholders will require access to affected areas in order to restore critical assets. In addition, the owners and operators of those assets need a comprehensive understanding of how their systems are relied on by other systems. If, for example, my building reopens its doors, but my employees can’t come to work because Lizzy’s construction firm couldn’t repair the roads, then there is no point in me reopening. Our project aims to provide stakeholders with an understanding of critical infrastructure interdependencies and how a shock to one system can cascade to another.”

The team began their project by using Boston as a proof of concept and plan to expand to other geographic areas. Additionally, they will work to add more open source data as well as further information provided by stakeholders.

The national COE network is comprised of hundreds of universities actively engaged with research and education aimed at addressing challenges in homeland security. Through their relationships with the DHS Office of University Programs within the Science and Technology Directorate, the COEs represent some of the most progressive and advanced science and strategy regarding a wide range of national security concerns.

The COE Summit provides an arena to discuss strategies, showcase tools and solutions and facilitate collaboration between researchers, end users and industry representatives. During the summit, innovative research being conducted by undergraduate and graduate students is showcased in the form of posters, in recognition that these students represent the next generation of homeland security leaders and problem solvers.

[Read all the poster abstracts by clicking here]