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Interdisciplinary team to study impact of extreme events

5/21/2015 6:09:00 AM

Paolo Gardoni, Yanfeng Ouyang and Colleen Murphy to lead interdisciplinary team

By Tony Mancuso and Kristina Shidlauski

CEE at Illinois Associate Professors Paolo Gardoni and Yanfeng Ouyang will join Associate Professor Colleen Murphy from the College of Law and Department of Philosophy in a project to model the impact that extreme natural and human-made events can have on communities and ecosystems. These three primary investigators will lead a team that will examine the effects of possible natural events such as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes — as well as human actions such as terrorist attacks or interventions.

“Evidence from several case studies shows that the socioeconomic status of a community influences how it is impacted,” Gardoni said. “The focus of this project is to predict measures of impact of future events. We will use an extensive database and additional modeling to predict the extent of the impact of such an event — as well as the length of recovery, or resilience of the affected community or ecosystem.”

The team will use a “capability approach” that will explain what residents can do — or be — after such a stressor occurs, he said. “We will go beyond the traditional measures of impact like fatalities and injuries. More details and refined measures are essential especially when looking at the recovery phase.”

The team will also build sophisticated mathematical models to understand vulnerability of complex interdependent infrastructure systems — such as water pipelines, roadways, power grids, and communication networks — that are closely attached to communities.

“Particular focus will be on capturing deterministic and random propagation of cascading disruptions — such as water shortage caused by electricity outage and pump failures — and the collective impacts to residents,” Ouyang said. The research will also explore ways to mitigate such vulnerability through more robust pre-disaster design and more effective emergency responses, he said.

Gardoni said the project is interdisciplinary, with a team that has members with very different expertise, as the researchers will look at engineering, social, economic, legal and political aspects. The genesis for the project started with the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which sought out specific researchers to ensure the inclusion of multiple disciplines. The Institute helped secure more than $220,000, including direct pay for student researchers, from the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL), which will fund the study titled “System Dynamics Modeling of the Ecosystem-Infrastructure Interface.”

“The Institute was very instrumental in defining the scope of the project and in making sure it fit within CERL’s interest areas,” Gardoni said. “(iSEE Director) Evan DeLucia and (Managing Director) Jenny Kokini did a great job of matchmaking, which was essential in putting the right team together, then put a lot of effort into the scope, interest and intellectual value of our research.”

 “Without iSEE, this project would not have come together,” Gardoni said. “It is difficult to start research like this within the traditional boundaries of a department, and having an institute bringing together people from across campus is a huge added benefit for our research community.”

For more about Gardoni’s research on Multi-hazard Approach to Engineering, please visit Ouyang’s research can be found at Murphy’s research can be found at