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Enhancing Safety and Resilience of Civil Infrastructure Through Interdisciplinary Research: Vanderbilt’s IRIS Initiative

Posted by on Monday, February 20, 2017 in Uncategorized.

Vanderbilt Associate Professor Caglar Oskay


Written by Vanderbilt Associate Professor Caglar Oskay

The nation’s civil infrastructure is aging and in poor health. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently assigned a grade of D+ to our nation’s flood protection infrastructure, which protects more than half of the U.S. population and is critical for homeland safety, security, economic vitality and environmental protection. The health of flood infrastructure systems, which include levees, dams, keys interconnected with roads, highways and bridges, is also below average with dams receiving a D grade and levees and roads receiving D- grades. We have been experiencing the terrible consequences of failing flood protection systems with ever greater frequency. As recently as this past summer, flood waters damaged an estimated 146,000 homes in Louisiana, forcing thousands to flee to shelters.

At Vanderbilt, we are working hard to build the scientific underpinnings of the next generation civil infrastructure systems that will organically interact (inform as well as adapt to demands) with local communities and decision makers in order to function much more efficiently and effectively than the systems available today. Our new initiative, called Intelligent and Resilient Infrastructure Systems (IRIS), brings together a group of core faculty from the College of Arts and Science and the School of Engineering to create a hub for research and support educational innovation.


Funded by a TIPs award, this initiative is focused on intelligent, data driven, cyber-physical flood protection infrastructure that can safely, efficiently and cost-effectively operate in normal as well as emergency conditions. In this new paradigm, the infrastructure system will self-diagnose problems and communicate with decision makers in the private and public sectors at the local, state, regional, and national levels to increase infrastructure resilience to natural disasters.

Creating such an intelligent system is possible because of the trans-institutional nature of our team, bringing together expertise in remote sensing (Prof. Ralf Bennartz), big data (Profs. Hiba Baroud and Ralf Bennartz), cyber-physical integration (Profs. Julie Adams and Caglar Oskay), risk-based decision making (Profs. Jennifer TruebloodCraig Philip and Hiba Baroud), visual analytics (Prof. Mark Abkowitz) and predictive modeling and simulation (Prof. Oskay).


The project is also currently supporting an undergraduate student Andrea Liberman, a sophomore in Cognitive Studies and minoring in Corporate Strategy and Quantitative Methods; a graduate student Leslie Gillespie-Marthaler in Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and a postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Alessandro Fascetti in Multiscale Modeling and Simulation Facility. In close collaboration, they are helping us enhance our nation’s civil infrastructure for a safer and more economical future!

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