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Inves­ti­gating Logan’s Infra­struc­ture Resilience

March 19, 2015

A group of graduate students co-taught by CEE Associate Professor Auroop Ganguly and Stephen Flynn, the co-director of Northeastern's George J Kostad Research Institute of Homeland Security, presented to Massport their assessment of whether or not Logan International Airport is prepared to handle a major natural disaster.

Source: News @ Northeastern

Here is the hypo­thet­ical sce­nario: A major hur­ri­cane is bar­reling toward Boston, bringing flood­wa­ters and destruc­tive winds that threaten Logan Inter­na­tional Air­port. Is this vital New Eng­land trans­porta­tion hub ade­quately pre­pared to deal with the imme­diate and pro­longed effects of this nat­ural disaster?

A group of 27 North­eastern grad­uate stu­dents looked to answer that ques­tion with a semester-​​long project inves­ti­gating Logan’s infra­struc­ture resilience. In Feb­ruary, the stu­dents pre­sented their find­ings to offi­cials at Mass­port, the public authority that owns Mass­a­chu­setts’ three air­ports and the marine ter­minal in the Port of Boston. Jalal Mapar, director of the Resilient Sys­tems Divi­sion at the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity Sci­ence and Tech­nology Direc­torate, also attended the meeting and met with the stu­dents fol­lowing their pre­sen­ta­tions to pro­vide some feed­back and dis­cuss his work.

The stu­dents’ inno­v­a­tive pro­posals included com­mis­sioning tourism duck boats to be used as amphibian vehi­cles for key per­sonnel to get to Logan facil­i­ties inun­dated by a hur­ri­cane storm surge. The stu­dents also high­lighted how new adap­ta­tions of net­work sci­ence and prob­a­bilistic risk assess­ment models could help Logan offi­cials to better iden­tify infra­struc­ture vulnerabilities.


Stu­dents in Northeastern’s “Crit­ical Infra­struc­ture Resilience” grad­uate course pre­sented their semester-​​long projects to Mass­port and DHS offi­cials last month. Con­tributed photo by Jamie Traynor

The grad­uate stu­dents researched and devel­oped these projects in the fall as part of a new inter­dis­ci­pli­nary course called “Crit­ical Infra­struc­ture Resilience,” which was co-​​taught by Stephen Flynn, a pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence and the founding co-​​director of Northeastern’s George J. Kostas Research Insti­tute for Home­land Secu­rity, and Auroop Gan­guly, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engi­neering, who directs the Sus­tain­ability and Data Sci­ences Lab­o­ra­tory at North­eastern. They were aided by teaching assis­tants Devashish Kumar and Evan Kodra, who are cur­rent and former doc­toral stu­dents in Ganguly’s lab, respectively.

Flynn helped facil­i­tate the part­ner­ship and has also fos­tered exten­sive rela­tion­ships among the owners and oper­a­tors of major infra­struc­ture such as Mass­port, where he serves as a member of its Secu­rity Advi­sory Council.

Flynn and Gan­guly cred­ited the stu­dents for their hard work and for pro­ducing inno­v­a­tive ideas to address resilience. “Our stu­dents, Mass­port, and Pro­fessor Gan­guly and I all came away from this class learning some­thing new,” Flynn said.

Mass­port recently looked at the resilience of its crit­ical facil­i­ties at an asset-​​level and our stu­dents took a more system-​​level approach,” Gan­guly added. “The idea is not nec­es­sarily if a spe­cific bridge will col­lapse in the event of a major hur­ri­cane, but instead how to assure the main­te­nance of crit­ical func­tion­ality such as mobility and com­mu­ni­ca­tions and whether a quick recovery is possible.”

The stu­dents con­sid­ered five resilience fac­tors: cas­cading inter­de­pen­den­cies across mul­tiple infra­struc­ture sec­tors; antic­i­pa­tory engi­neering design; met­rics and finan­cial incen­tive struc­tures; gov­er­nance across juris­dic­tional or orga­ni­za­tional bar­riers; and novel capa­bil­i­ties and appli­ca­tions. Engi­neering and public policy stu­dents worked together in groups and were assigned one of five life­lines: fuel, water, elec­tricity, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, or transportation.

Three of the groups—transportation, elec­tricity, and a mod­er­ator group—presented to Mass­port senior man­agers in December, when the course was winding down. Those stu­dents did such an impres­sive job that the offi­cials asked to see all the stu­dents’ projects.

What we were hoping to present was a bigger pic­ture sce­nario,” said Charles Simpson, SSH’14/MS’16, who was part of the fuel group. “We went beyond just Mass­port and were able to look at the providers of the fuel sources and what vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties they may have.”

Stu­dents in the Col­lege of Engi­neering and the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties were enrolled in the course. Simpson noted the impor­tance of taking an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach to exam­ining resilience by bringing together the per­spec­tives of both engi­neering and public policy stu­dents. “Public policy stu­dents would focus more on the ‘why’ of an idea, while engi­neering stu­dents would focus on fixing a spe­cific problem,” he explained.

While the course mate­rials were all avail­able online, the class dis­cus­sions were ani­mated by role-​​playing nego­ti­a­tions, or war games, moti­vated by Ganguly’s Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram on cli­mate change and its impacts on infra­struc­tures and policy. Pre­sen­ta­tions by Mass­port offi­cials and their con­tractor Kle­in­felder helped infuse realism into the negotiations.

The stu­dents’ projects also build on the Kostas Institute’s mis­sion to expand the capacity of com­mu­ni­ties, crit­ical sys­tems, and infra­struc­ture to with­stand, respond to, and recover from man­made and nat­ural cat­a­stro­phes. Secu­rity is a pillar of Northeastern’s use-​​inspired research model, along with health and sustainability.