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Virginia Tech awarded grant to help fortify coastal cities against natural disasters

November 2, 2016

coastal city

coastal city
Virginia Tech faculty members Walid Saad and Anamaria Bukvic, in collaboration with the University of Miami, will design new computational, mathematical, and simulation frameworks to protect the critical infrastructure of coastal cities against natural disasters.

Coastal cities are critical to the global economy and frequently exposed to hurricanes, flooding, sea level rise, and other natural disasters.

When infrastructure — water, energy, sewer, and transportation systems — as well as the built environment is compromised, the residents’ safety is also jeopardized. Emergency plans outline how coastal cities can endure and recover from natural disasters, but often do not contain a comprehensive strategy for infrastructure.

Virginia Tech’s Walid Saad, assistant professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering and Anamaria Bukvic, research assistant professor in the Department of Geography in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, in collaboration with civil engineers from the University of Miami, received a two-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation grant to design new computational, mathematical, and simulation frameworks to protect the critical infrastructure of coastal cities against natural disasters.

The project, supported by the foundation initiative, Critical Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Systems and Processes (CRISP) program, is entitled "Collaborative Research: A Human-Centered Computational Framework for Urban and Community Design of Resilient Coastal Cities." The award is one of two collaborative NSF CRISP research grants awarded to Virginia Tech.

“Resilience paradigms need to explicitly account for the complex, large-scale physical and social systems of a coastal city's infrastructure,” said Saad, the Steven O. Lane Junior Faculty Fellow. "Although there has been a surge in literature that assesses the physical and economic damage of climate change in coastal regions, these works remain largely qualitative and are restricted to each infrastructure in isolation.”

Saad, principal investigator on the project, and his multidisciplinary team will work to fill in that gap by creating frameworks for "anticipatory resilience" — meaning the designs will be tailored to and directly installed in the built environment of coastal cities. In collaboration with the cities of Miami and Miami Beach, the researchers will be testing the frameworks on site, furthering the direct and tangible societal impact.

The meta-models will account for urban and community design as well as the socio-economic characteristics of each city. By coupling the meta-models with a computational framework, the researchers will build an advanced simulation and optimization framework for enhancing the resilience of a coastal city's critical infrastructure systems.

Last year, Saad and his research team were awarded a $1.1 million NSF grant in support of the CRSIP program to focus on smart city infrastructure. The group was tasked with creating a framework and combining techniques from network science, operations research and economics, machine learning, wireless communications, power systems, and psychology in order to develop processes that can give smart city systems the resiliency to recover from such failures.

Written by Kelly Izlar.