Project to improve disaster response

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Blackouts, hurricanes, earthquakes and other catastrophic events can shut down or interrupt our national infrastructure and are often out of our control. A Penn State project funded by the National Science Foundation will study how populations and infrastructures can better respond to these disasters.

Guangqing Chi, faculty director of the Computational and Spatial Analysis Core at the Population Research Institute, Social Science Research Institute at Penn State, is principal investigator on the project, which will explore these improved responses.

“Reducing the instability and vulnerability of the critical and complex population–infrastructure system is essential for a more resilient and efficient society,” Chi explained, who is also who is an an associate professor of rural sociology and demography in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Catastrophic events, such as the Northeast Blackout of 2003 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, shut down or interrupted essential and interdependent components of our national infrastructure, such as electric networks, fuel supplies, and transportation systems. This vulnerability is heightened by changing population dynamics that impose serious challenges to the nation’s infrastructure system in efficiently responding to both moderate disturbances and extreme events.

According to Chi, the primary goal of the project is to increase the resilience of the population–infrastructure system in the United States during disturbances of various magnitudes, ranging from operational uncertainties to major disruptions. “The research will contribute to the development of ‘smart communities and cities’ where multiple stakeholders can work together to achieve common goals.”

Another goal of the project is to develop innovative educational and training modules to provide a vision of efficient, resilient, and socially vital communities and means to build them.

In order to achieve these goals, researchers plan to develop a framework to assess the critical and complex interdependence of various infrastructure systems and population groups. “The framework will also assist city planners in analyzing short-term mobility behaviors as well as the long-term social and demographic evolution of the interconnection of population and infrastructure,” said Chi.

The model will be integrated with a cyber-communications system based on self-organized “swarm intelligence” to create a realistic system in which individuals and groups, by communicating their available information, will behave in a unified, cohesive manner.

The project is a collaboration with Xiaopeng Li, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of South Florida.

Media Contacts: 

Kristie Auman-Bauer

Work Phone: 
814-865-7011

Communications Manager

Last Updated July 28, 2017