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Resilience Through Impact Modeling

image credit: NASA/NOAA Satellite Image

If 2020 taught us anything it was that unexpected events can be hugely disruptive.  And the lessons have continued in 2021. The recent power outages in large parts of America because of severe winter weather, have endangered lives and disrupted the economy, illustrating the importance of infrastructure resilience.

Before and After Image of Texas Nighttime Lights
Before and After Image of Texas Nighttime Lights during February Power Outage Event

‘Resilience’ is a popular term with many definitions, but as illustrated in the chart below, I am specifically referring to the ability of a system to experience the smallest possible disruption for the shortest amount of time when subjected to an external shock. In order to design this type of system, we must first be able to understand the potential for various external shocks and then execute solutions that make the system robust to those shocks.

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Resilience Curve
The Resilience Curve1

Many disasters like the recent blackouts in Texas are related to a lack of imagination about the potential and consequences of extreme events.  These scenarios always seem distant and way too improbable to invest serious time and attention. However, as the effects of climate change pile up, these “grey rhino” events are only going to come more often and with increased ferocity. It is critical that infrastructure owners appreciate these risks and invest in tools that give them the situational intelligence to respond effectively. Armed with the right information, emergency managers can prepare effectively in advance of extreme events and react with confidence when they do occur.   

There are a range of emerging and sophisticated dynamic modeling approaches that can generate the knowledge that is required to both reduce the size of disruptions and to shorten them when they occur.  These approaches take advantage of recent trends in digitization and machine learning to create granular analyses that represent multiple dimensions of disruptive events before, during, and after they happen.  They can help us understand how systems fail today, and how they might fail in the future.  With those insights, we can appreciate the risk that we face as a society and how best to create a more resilient and prosperous future. 

[1 Chart taken from presentation by Gil Bindewald and Guohui Yuan, North American Energy Resilience Model (NAERM) Status Update. US DOE Office of Electricity. May 29th 2020]

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 18, 2021

Many disasters like the recent blackouts in Texas are related to a lack of imagination about the potential and consequences of extreme events.

This is a good way to frame it-- conventional thinking works most of the time, but when it doesn't then the consequences can be great. 

Peter Watson's picture
Peter Watson on Feb 19, 2021

Yes, for a long time designing for fifty or a hundred year storms was normal and completely sufficient.  More extreme cases were usually heavily discounted.  But now it seems like hundred year storms happen every year.  Because of the changing nature of storms, hopefully we can make a shift towards considering the possible instead of just the probable.

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