Published: Oct. 13, 2014

A women-led group of CU-Boulder engineering faculty will spend the next year studying how to make community infrastructure more resilient, thanks to an exploratory grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The grant is part of the NSF’s Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Processes and Systems (RIPS) project, which awarded grants to more than 50 researchers at 16 institutions to “investigate innovative ways to bolster the resilience of the electrical grid, water systems and other critical infrastructure area.”

Principal investigator Abbie Liel will be working with CEAE colleagues Shideh Dashti and Amy Javernick-Will, as well as Leysia Palen from computer science. The project will also involve Leah Sprain from CU-Boulder’s Department of Communication and Bruce Goldstein from the Environmental Design program. Liel said the group will be exploring the intersection of the built environment and social infrastructure, including how community members relate to and use engineering models during and after natural disasters like earthquakes or floods.

“Models don’t always have a lot of utility for homeowners or community planners,” she said. “We want to make those models more useful for people who are actually making the decisions.”

They will begin right here at home by looking at community resilience in Boulder. The project incorporates work by Palen and Dashti, who looked at how Twitter helped engineers during the 2013 floods.

“We’ll be using some of that same information, but in a broader sense,” Liel said. “In addition to Twitter, we’ll be looking at social media from groups who helped with cleanup, FEMA damage data and Boulder flood permits to engage stakeholders in helping to develop new damage models.”

As one of the Rockefeller Foundations’ 100 Resilient Cities, Boulder already has chief resilience officer who leads efforts to make sure the city can both survive and recover quickly from challenges such as the 2013 flood and economic downturns. "There is a lot of talk here about what it means to be resilient,” Liel said. “We’re looking at the city and the Rockefeller effort as way of disseminating information.”

The project will involve graduate students from CEAE, computer science and communications, as well as undergraduate students from CEAE.