Team receives grant to tackle food security, infrastructure issues

10/27/2016 Kristina Shidlauski

Written by Kristina Shidlauski

CEE at Illinois professor Paolo Gardoni is part of a multi-institutional research team that has been awarded a four-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Critical Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Systems and Processes (CRISP) program. The interdisciplinary team will examine the problem of food security in the United States by focusing on interconnected infrastructure networks and how natural disasters impact them.

Paolo Gardoni
Paolo Gardoni

“One of the main characteristics of the problem is the fact that food security—or rather, food insecurity—is a result of cascading effects that involve multiple infrastructure,” said Gardoni. “We’re considering four of these critical infrastructure—transportation, energy, water and food distribution—as fundamental for understanding, modeling and addressing the problem of food insecurity.”

The team will model the functionality and vulnerabilities of the four individual networks, and integrate the models to account for interdependencies between the systems. Additionally, the team will examine unique characteristics of different natural disasters and how they impact these networks. The researchers will characterize tornadoes, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes because they are among the most common hazards in the U.S., with each bringing different challenges and issues.

Since food security in a community is a product not only of functioning interconnected infrastructure systems but also social and economic networks, the research project is an interdisciplinary effort involving Engineering, Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Science, and Computer and Computational Science. Engineering is needed to model the physical systems and their interdependencies; SBE sciences are required to understand and model food distribution networks with a focus on vulnerable populations; and Computer and Computational Sciences are needed to develop comprehensive models as well to assess policy and organizational interventions that lead to greater resiliency.

“We’re not [just] talking about why a bridge failed. If it was why a bridge failed, engineers alone could figure this out,” Gardoni said. “The ultimate goal should not be the maximum displacement of the top of a column, or the physical response of a structure or even of a system. The ultimate goal is the well-being of individuals, which is beyond civil engineering. So we need to integrate civil engineering with the social sciences to together tell us about the well-being of individuals.”

The primary goal of the interdisciplinary research project is to develop a framework that integrates all of these data into computational models that can be used to guide regional decision-making, both before a disaster (in order to mitigate impact and improve resiliency, or the ability of a community to recover) and after (to guide recovery efforts).

“Every discipline has their own way of tackling a problem, their own language, their own interests, their own aspect they’re interested in solving,” Gardoni said. “In order to be successful you cannot just take four or five people from different disciplines and put them in a room and expect it to work. It’s important to have people who have experience working together, and experience working with people outside their own discipline.”

Included among the other members of the team are Bruce Ellingwood, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Colorado State University (CSU), and Walter Peacock, professor of Urban Planning in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning and the Director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University (TAMU), both of whom have worked with Gardoni for many years at the MAE Center (of which Gardoni serves as director). John van de Lindt, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at CSU, is also part of the team. Van de Lindt, Ellingwood, Gardoni and Peacock are all part of the leadership team of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)-funded Center for Risk-based Community Resilience Planning. Gardoni believes this shared collaborative history will be instrumental in helping the team work effectively together.

Other members of the team include Edwin Chong (Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mathematics, CSU), Dan Goldberg (Department of Computer Science & Engineering and Department of Geography and GeoInnovation Service Center, TAMU), Santanu Chaudhuri (Illinois Applied Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Nathanael Rosenheim (Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center and the Texas Census Data Research Center, TAMU), and Jamie Kruse (Department of Economics, Center for Natural Hazards Research, East Carolina University).

Gardoni is director of the MAE Center, co-director of the CEE at Illinois Societal Risk Management interdisciplinary program, associate director of the NIST-funded Center for Risk-based Community Resilience Planning and founder and editor-in-chief of the international journal Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure. His areas of expertise include sustainable and resilient infrastructure; reliability, risk and performance analysis; policies for natural hazard mitigation and disaster recovery; and ethical, social, and legal dimensions of risk. The NSF CRISP award announcement can be found here.

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This story was published October 27, 2016.