New Publication on Resilience and Engineering

Recently, I’ve had the good fortune of having a new publication, “Toward General Principles for Resilience Engineering” published in the journal Risk Analysis.  A copy of the article can be found here. This was a lot of fun, working on an interdisciplinary team, primarily comprised of several engineers and led by one of CBIE’s former doctoral students, David Yu, now at Purdue University in their Civil Engineering group.

In this article, we compared the enabling conditions or principles of building resilience from the resilience engineering literature with principles for building resilience in social-ecological systems that were identified in a book that I co-edited and co-authored with some friends from the Resilience Alliance for Cambridge University Press a few years ago.  We wanted to take a broader perspective of resilience for infrastructure-dependent systems that took a more nuanced approach than generally offered in the resilient engineering literature.  Here, when we refer to infrastructure-dependent systems, we simply mean the built infrastructure and how it is used by society.  As an example, think about a dam.  It’s for water storage and power generation.  But it also has tremendous impacts on the ecosystem, provides a number of recreational opportunities, and is dependent on natural systems like the water cycle.  Its functions are resilient to a number of shocks and less resilient to others.  Here’s a photo of Hoover dam to anchor these ideas.

istock_000023343169_large-2

Long ago, when I was being trained as an engineer, we were taught that good design trumped everything else.  But we all know the stories about poor designs winning over better products for a number of reasons – ease of use with less functionality, superior marketing, poor understanding of the problem being solved.  In sustainability, we see this regularly.  For instance, one of my former master’s students, Ryan Delaney, started a company, Carbon Roots, to help improve soil quality in Haiti.  They took a design to make charcoal from crop waste that could then be injected into the ground to improve soil nutrient levels.  In turn, this would improve crop yields.  This was the engineered design.  However, in application, people found that they could make the charcoal and then sell it for cooking fuel – a far more pressing need.  Hence, when we talk about resilience in engineering, we want to talk about the technology and its use – our infrastructure-dependent system.

In our article, we identified the following first principles for infrastructure-dependent systems:

  1. Recognize the importance of system contexts
  2. Foster social capital
  3. Maintain diversity
  4. Manage connectivity
  5. Encourage learning-by-doing
  6. Embrace polycentric control
  7. Address the problem of fit
  8. Manage for complexity

While I don’t have space to go into detailed explanations of these, here is a figure that we use in the manuscript to show the interrelationships between these concepts and how they influence resilience.

Picture1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: