CIRI’s Tien works with Rockefeller Foundation to create more resilient City of Atlanta

CIRI’s Iris Tien, assistant professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, has been chosen to co-lead a Discovery Area Working Group for the City of Atlanta, through the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) program.  Cities chosen to participate in 100RC are provided the requisite resources to develop a “roadmap to resilience” along physical, social, and economic axes, according to the group’s website.  The City of Atlanta’s particular set of challenges revolves around the impact of inadequate transportation infrastructure on other critical infrastructure sectors, as they are interdependent on each other.  

Iris TienTien’s interdisciplinary background and prior work with CIRI have equipped her to co-lead the 100RC working group, which aims to “strengthen and maintain infrastructure and promote community preparedness.” Tien’s expertise includes analysis of water distribution systems and their connections with electrical power; for example, the phenomenon of an outage in a power system (due to an electrical outage or a cyber attack on the power grid) resulting in a cascade of effects that trickles down to the ability of the city to provide water to its residents.  Recovery of such systems requires a combination of functioning water, power, and transportation infrastructure.

"This project has been a unique opportunity to translate fundamental scientific research to the field," she said. "Through the project, we've been able to take the first steps to transforming how infrastructure is thought about, from individual, separated infrastructure systems to thinking about critical infrastructure as an integrated, interdependent network."

Working with the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, the Department of Watershed Management, and Atlanta Information Management (AIM), Tien’s research group seeks to identify and map the points of contact between traditionally siloed infrastructures. In particular, Tien develops Bayesian networks - probabilistic graphical models - to map these complex infrastructure interdependencies.  Tien presented these models during this month’s CIRI Webinar, titled “Mapping Infrastructure Interdependencies: Why It Matters and What It Can be Used For.”

According to Tien, the overarching goal is to help inform a more holistic approach to risk management, as Atlanta needs to develop a comprehensive resilience strategy for the 100RC program.  Traditionally, all infrastructure systems were siloed, with mono-focused emergency managers.  Tien’s strategy involves developing a critical component identification methodology to inform investment prioritization. 

With the recommendations from Tien’s research, the city of Atlanta will be able to choose the appropriate partners to bring to the table to make up a cross-functional infrastructure evaluation board to evaluate and implement new infrastructure projects.  By mapping interdependencies, assessing the risks, and analyzing the data, Tien’s research can provide city and community stakeholders with the salient data to make better investment decisions to increase infrastructure resilience.