New project sheds light on underground infrastructure to help communities respond to disasters

Debra Laefer, Professor in the Department of Civil and Urban Engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and Rae Zimmerman, Professor Emerita of Planning and Public Administration at NYU Wagner, are awardees of the Civic Innovation Challenge, a national competition to drive research and collaborative action in urban resiliency and smart and connected communities.

Their project, Unification for Underground Resilience Measures (UNUM), supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), aims to bolster the ability of first New York City and, ultimately, of cities nationwide to prepare for and respond to crises and disasters by making critical information on community infrastructure robust, open, transparent, and easy for key stakeholders to share and act upon.

Focused on Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and the Grand Central Business Improvement District, Manhattan, UNUM addresses a key obstacle to resilient response to such disasters as floods and hurricanes: insufficient data about the city's underground infrastructure, comprising utility systems that are often -- literally -- underfoot and overlooked because of poor, fragmented or no data at all.

"A lot of infrastructure information is typically held in proprietary systems, stored in separate silos, and likely to be in incompatible formats. Therefore, overcoming current data integration barriers requires the design of seamless, interoperable, 3D data storage and visualization systems and a willingness to share data with appropriate security measures in place."

Debra Laefer, Professor, Department of Civil and Urban Engineering, Tandon School of Engineering, New York University

Laefer, who is also a faculty member of the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) at NYU Tandon, explained that because of the interconnected and interoperable nature of utility services, infrastructure issues in one neighborhood may have direct and/or cascading effects in others.

"A transformer overload in one area may cripple services in distant neighborhoods," she explained. "So full knowledge, including at the community level, of subsurface usage is critical to improving natural hazard resilience, identifying threats and vulnerabilities and designing effective mitigation strategies."

With the involvement of key city and community stakeholders, UNUM will employ the Model for Underground Data Definition and Interchange, an open modeling framework for standardizing underground utility information led by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). It will also be supported by expertise and feedback from 31 unique stakeholders including:

  • Alfred Cerullo, CEO, and President, Grand Central Partnership;
  • Starling Childs, Co-Founder, and CEO, Gingko;
  • Dan Eschenasy, Chief Structural Engineer, NYC Department of Buildings;
  • David LaShell, NYC Manager, ESRI;
  • Terri Matthews, Director, Town+Gown NYC: NYC @ NYC DDC
  • Phil Meis, Utility Engineering and Surveying Institute (UESI) of the American Society of Civil Engineers, through the OGC;
  • Porie Saikia-Eapen, Director, Environmental, Sustainability & Compliance at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA);
  • Frank Winters, Geographic Information Officer, NYS Office of Information Technology Services;
  • Representatives from local utility companies, community groups, grassroots environmental organizations, and elected officials

In its second phase, the project will use the two neighborhoods as test beds to refine a strategy that can be applied across multiple jurisdictions throughout the U.S. in order to help cities nationwide assess threats and vulnerabilities of vital infrastructure systems, and identify single points of failure and triggers to cascading effects.

Funded with $11 million from the NSF, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and DHS, The Civic Innovation Challenge is a national research and action competition in the smart and connected communities domain.

At the end of Stage 1, NSF will select, through a merit-review process, a number of Stage 2 awardees who will each receive up to $1 million to support project implementation.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AZoLifeSciences.
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