Putting Transportation Under the Resilience Umbrella

by Laurel Radow

As interdependencies between and among critical infrastructure sectors and the potential for cascading effects increase, communities must be able to recover and adapt to new normals. One organization incorporates research to help enhance communication between sectors by identifying and addressing research gaps. As threats evolve, communities with a solid framework for resilience are better prepared to update plans and adapt to new normals.

Laurel Radow headshotPreparedness, and more importantly resilience, remains a priority at the Transportation Research Board (TRB), which is the transportation arm of the National Academy of Sciences. In an April 2013 article, “Key Hazards & Security Guide,” Stephan Parker, senior program officer at TRB, shared that TRB committees responded to 9/11 by creating “a ‘bookshelf’ of security resources and guides for transportation professionals, decision makers, and members of the general public. In addition, TRB maintains a wide-ranging website on transportation system security and emergencies, and disseminates monthly updates on TRB and National Academies security activities.” The TRB continues to update these publications.

Adapting to a New Normal

Since 2013, the TRB has continued to make security one of their key focus topic areas.  To strengthen the previous dozen or more years of research, in 2014, the TRB established a new section for the first time in many years. This section, “Transportation Systems Resilience,” solidified the transportation agencies’ focus on transportation security, emergency management, evacuations, and logistics under the broader umbrella of resilience.

The resilience section naturally builds on the National Academies’ previous efforts, embodied in “Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative,” released in 2012. This recent focus has been on resilient communities and the effects of climate change. The definition that TRB and the section use is, “The ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, or more successfully adapt to actual or potential adverse events.”

The Transportation Systems Resilience Section was approved by the TRB Technical Activities Council in 2014 and began its internal organization in 2015. At the most recent TRB annual meeting in January 2017, the reach of the section’s interest could be found in the range of the resilience-focused sessions. To raise awareness of what is meant by transportation resilience, on each day of the annual meeting, multiple “must attend” sessions were highlighted and labeled as “Hot Topic – Resilience” in the event program, beginning with a Sunday morning workshop, entitled “Resilience Tabletop Simulation: What You Need to Know Before and After Disaster Strikes.” Similar interactive exercises are planned for future conferences.

Putting Transportation Under the Resilience Umbrella

Staying Focused With Goals & Leadership

The section’s mission is to, “Promote discussion among principals, disseminate research findings and identify priority research topics” in the area of transportation systems and services before, during, and after periods of increased stress service disruptions, and critical human need to enhance recovery. The goals of the Transportation Systems Resilience Section include:

  • Promote communications, especially among the “lifeline sectors” (power, communications, and water/waste and transportation stakeholders), to enhance acknowledgement of these sectors interconnectedness and common vulnerabilities, including cyber vulnerabilities.
  • Build understanding of the sources of risk potential mitigation options at the community, regional, and national levels for implementation prior to significant disruptions or failure of transportation assets during periods of increased stress.
  • Develop an integrated conceptual framework and guidelines that map the system of physical and social infrastructures that are essential to maintaining transportation services and mechanisms to increase resilience and reliability.
  • Identify and promote new research that leads to crosscutting and interdisciplinary methodologies that integrate resilience practices and adaptation measures for the transportation sector.
  • Support the needs of end users by providing guidance that encourages the incorporation of system resilience and sustainability into the routine planning, engineering, financing, management, and maintenance activities of transportation.

The Transportation Systems Resilience Section seeks to:

  • Advance resilience research into the nature of interdependencies and cross-sector complexities in a comprehensive fashion;
  • Identify policy, protocols, and operational practices that promote greater transportation systems resilience, including adaptive capacity; and
  • Communicate best practices to meet the needs of society from the whole population to individual citizens and end users.

To ensure resilience remains front and center in the transportation community, two key activities are currently underway. First, in the summer of 2017, the TRB will publish a resilience-focused issue through its journal TR News. The articles have been written and are currently being reviewed by the TRB editorial board. Second, in the fall of 2018, TRB will host its first International Transportation Resiliency Conference. One of the key audiences of the conference will be state transportation chief executive officers or secretaries of transportation.

Call to Action

The following leadership of the Transportation Systems Resilience Section and its three committees are continuously looking to broaden their network:

  • Section Chair Thomas Wakeman and Vice Chair John Contestabile
  • Standing Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Protection (ABR10) Chair Laurel Radow and Vice Chair Duane Verner
  • Standing Committee on the Logistics of Disaster Response and Business Continuity (ABR20) Chair Anne Strauss-Wieder
  • Standing Committee on Emergency Evacuations (ABR30) Chair Brian Wolshon

As such, those interested in learning more about the Transportation Systems Resilience Section or its standing committees may connect with any of these TRB committee chairs at MyTRB. In the coming years, the TRB will continue its work to understand how a focus on resilience will begin to shape the transportation community, its projects, and its programs.

Laurel Radow is the current chair of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academy of Sciences’ Standing Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Protection (ABR10). From 2014 through 2016, she served as the vice chair of the ABR10. She joined the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. Department of Transportation in 1996. From 2004 until her retirement at the end of 2016, she served as a member of the FHWA Office of Operation’s Traffic Incident and Events Management Team. In that capacity, she served as program manager for the agency’s Evacuations/Emergencies and Planned Special Events (PSE) programs as well as managed a range of traffic incident management (TIM) tasks. Recent TIM and PSE responsibilities included: management of the publications, “Making the TIM Business Case,” and “Climate Change Adaptation Guide for Transportation Systems Management, Operations, and Maintenance”; deployment of the “TIM Incident Management Outreach Toolkit”; member of the TIM SHRP2 (Strategic Highway Research Program 2) TIM responder training program; management of the Planned Special Events Capability Maturity Framework workshops; and author of the August 2016 publication, “2017 Solar Eclipse Transportation Fact Sheet for State and Local Departments of Transportation.”