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RESIN Project Statement


Complex Infrastructure Risk Assessment and Management (CIRAM)

Resilience & Sustainability
of Critical Infrastructure Systems
in the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta Region


Contemporary infrastructure, the systems necessary to provide sustainable services within the nation’s power, transportation, waste management, water, and telecommunication sectors, has become very complex; that is adaptive, interdependent, unpredictable, nonlinear, and dynamic.  They are highly interdependent networks comprising of identifiable components/assets, institutions (including people, processes, and procedures), and distribution capabilities.  These interdependencies, both intentional and unintentional, have led to unanticipated fragility and failure modes that are not exhibited by each infrastructure in isolation.  Intentional and/or unintentional interdependencies also create opportunities for mutually reinforcing robust performance and synergies in design. 

Moreover, these critical infrastructure systems have evolved over the past century through both public and private investments and are now technologically aging and degrading (NSF 2009).  They are vulnerable to natural disasters, anthropogenic disruptions, and malfunctions.  Many of these systems rely on unsustainable resource consumption rates that threaten the earth's natural systems.  The magnitude of technological and societal innovations and financial investments needed in the twenty-first century to renew these infrastructures and build new infrastructures is staggering.  ASCE (2009) estimates a minimum 5-year investment of over $2 trillion is required in the United States to reverse the declining trend of these systems. 
The frameworks for assessing and modeling how these interdependencies occur, propagate, and influence system Resilience & Sustainability are not yet established, nor are the major drivers that threaten Resilience & Sustainability known. The Complex Infrastructure Risk Assessment and Management (CIRAM) project seeks to discover new fundamental methods (through interdisciplinary research) to assess and manage the resilience and sustainability of such complex systems (termed I3CIS).  These methods will facilitate the characterization of both resilience and sustainability by addressing multi-infrastructure, multi-physics, multi-scale (spatial, temporal), and multi-resource phenomena that impact the likelihood of these systems failing to achieve acceptable resilience and sustainability, as well as the associated consequences. 
The setting selected to develop these methods is the California Sacramento Delta focusing primarily on the following four critical infrastructure services, as well as interfaces with other critical infrastructure sectors as necessary (DHS 2009): 

  • Water Supply – Includes water supply system for agriculture, commercial/industry, government, and the public.  Issues of importance include supply, conveyance, and quality;
  • Flood Protection – Includes the structural elements (levees, floodwalls, flood gates, dams, diversion channels, storm drain systems) as well as the natural rivers corridors, subsidence, settlement & consolidation, and hydrologic hazards (rain storms, snow melt) that inundate low lying areas and floodplains;
  • Power Supply – Elements of the electrical power grid that supply electricity to agricultural, commercial/industrial, government and the public; and
  • Ecosystem – Physical and biological components of the environment.  Physical attributes include habitat areas, soil substrates, water supply and quality.  Biological considerations include flora and fauna.

The California Sacramento Delta I3CIS is a very complex highly interactive ‘legacy’ system embedded in similarly complex natural environmental and social - political systems. It is of critical importance directly for the population and environment of the State of California and indirectly for the rest of the United States.
A three-phased approach will be used to discover and develop the new risk assessment and management methods:

  1. Group Formation and Organization (YEAR 1) – Learn how to think about the research problem from an interdisciplinary unbounded systems-based perspective.  Learn how to work effectively as a unified research team instead of separate discipline “silos.”  Ensure that the correct problem is addressed precisely and that a precise solution to the wrong problem (E3 Error) is avoided.
  2. Methods Development (YEAR 2) – Starting with the QMAS© and SYRAS© assessment instruments, identify methods through scientific literature reviews, expert solicitations, and pilot investigations to assess and manage resilience and sustainability of an I3CIS.
  3. Methods Validation (YEARS 3 & 4) – Perform internal and external validation of methods developed by “scaling-up” the pilot investigation and applying them to a larger spatial system.

The goals of this research project are to develop the following Quality Management Assessment System Process (QMAS) to be suitable for I3CIS resilience and sustainability investigations (QMAS++) and thereby contribute toward a ‘new’ interdisciplinary field of infrastructure system engineering:

  1. System Definition and Conceptualization
  2. Domain Expert / Key Informant Assessment Team Identification and Formation
  3. Identification of the key vulnerabilities or chokepoints (aka Factors of Concern)
  4. Failure Scenario Development
  5. Detailed Qualitative and Quantitative Risk Assessment and Management that accounts for I3CIS spatial variability, temporal variability (historical, current, future), and non-linearity (SYRAS++)

If successful, this research will answer the following fundamental questions:

  1. What are the major drivers that threaten Resilience & Sustainability (current, future)?
  2. What is the current Resilience & Sustainability state of the I3CIS?
  3. What future Resiliency & Sustainability states are expected given the status quo persists?
  4. What are the potential consequences/impacts associated with future Resiliency & Sustainability states given the status quo persists?
  5. What adaptation and mitigation strategies can be employed to create an "acceptable" Resilient & Sustainable I3CIS?


American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).  “2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.”  American Society of Civil Engineers.  Available from:  Date accessed:  October 6, 2009.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  “Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources.”  Available from: Date accessed: October 6, 2009.

National Science Foundation (NSF).  “EMERGING FRONTIERS IN RESEARCH AND INNOVATION 2008 (EFRI-2008).”  Available from:  Date accessed: October 6, 2009



NFS logo round This project is funded by the National Science Foundation, Grant # EFRI-0836047. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.




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