‘Sustainable and Resilient Critical Infrastructure Systems’

Written by Avinash and Purnima Prasad
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“Infrastructure,” say Avinash Prasad and Indira Prasad, “can be defined as the set of structural elements that supports our day-to-day lives and influences the direction of humanity. Most of our existing infrastructure (including transportation) is not sustainable and resilient. It is important to understand the significance of sustainable and resilient critical infrastructure systems—an emerging thought in an evolving era where natural and man-made assets are being depleted to provide a sustainable and high quality of life. Sustainable infrastructure refers to the designing, building, and operation of structural elements in ways that do not diminish the social, economic, and ecological processes required to maintain human equity, diversity and the functionality of natural systems.”

Sustainable and Resilient Critical Infrastructure Systems, an engineering paper prepared for AREMA by the Prasads (husband and wife, both Ph.D. candidates), discusses how sustainable infrastructure “enhances the quality of life, increases positive impacts (benefits), and helps protect our vital natural resources and the environment. Infrastructure resilience is the ability to reduce the magnitude and/or duration of disruptive events. The effectiveness of resilient infrastructure or enterprise depends upon its ability to anticipate, absorb, adapt to, and/or rapidly recover from a potentially disruptive event. The development of infrastructure systems that are sustainable and resilient is a challenging task, and it involves a broad range of performance indicators over the system lifecycle that affect system functionality and recovery.”

What the Prasads define as “sustainability indicators” address economic, social, and environmental performance metrics. “Resilient indicators” address strength, functionality, and recovery-time metrics after a hazardous event: “Considering these facts, it must be understood that it is vital for our existing infrastructure systems to be sustainable and resilient. The choice of infrastructure development is crucial to sustainable development because the infrastructure we are building today will enable our future communities to remain resilient. By 2050, more than half of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas, bringing huge challenges and opportunities for investment in sustainable infrastructure across every sector of the economy. Transportation systems including railroad systems will need to be smarter, faster, and more focused toward mass transit, electric vehicles and self-driving vehicles. Rail infrastructure is a critical component of a transportation system that is helping the United States in global markets. America’s freight and passenger railroad industry continues to remain an emblem of innovation and a foundation for economic growth. Disruptions to freight rail  inflict serious damage on the economy, cause massive layoffs and affect our supply chain.”

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