Infrastructure protection

  • EarthquakesOur new anti-earthquake technology could protect cities from destruction

    By Pierfrancesco Cacciola

    Protecting cities from earthquakes is still a grand challenge that needs addressing, as recent disasters in Nepal, Japan, Haiti, and Chile confirm. Although significant progress has been made in understanding seismic activity and developing building technology, we still don’t have a satisfactory way of protecting buildings on a large scale. This is a serious problem, since large numbers of buildings that don’t have built-in protection exist in earthquake zones, particularly in developing countries where replacing them or introducing stricter — and more expensive — building codes aren’t seen as an option. Researchers have designed a novel vibrating barrier (ViBa) to reduce the vibrations of nearby structures caused by an earthquake’s ground waves. The device would be buried in the soil and detached from surrounding buildings, and should be able to absorb a significant portion of the dynamic energy arising from the ground motion with a consequent reduction of seismic response (between 40-80 percent).

  • CybersecurityDuqu 2.0: New, menacing programming concept

    In 2011, the security world was rocked by the announcement of a newly discovered virus named Stuxnet. This malware, unlike previous viruses, was targeted at one particular victim. That target was Iran’s nuclear program.Following on the heels of Stuxnet was a variant named Duqu.Duqu is different from Stuxnet, however, in that it was designed to gather information for future attacks, rather than perform the attack itself.There is evidence that the malware was used to gather information on the U.S. talks with Iran over the Iranian nuclear program.Since this worm is able to move laterally, and runs only in system memory, a given computer can be easily re-infected from elsewhere in the home network, without using any mechanisms that would provide persistence. Duqu 2.0 represents programming concepts never used before that make it extremely dangerous.

  • Infrastructure protectionMuons from cosmic rays used to find fraying infrastructure

    In the United States, electricity comes with the flip of a switch and heat arrives with the push of a button. Behind such convenience lies a massive infrastructure network that produces and distributes energy. And just like roads wear down and need to be repaved occasionally, this energy infrastructure degrades over time. Pipes can corrode and concrete can wear thin. Failure can be catastrophic. Seeking a better way to identify faulty energy infrastructure before it fails, researchers are using subatomic particles called muons to analyze the thickness of concrete slabs and metal pipes. Subatomic particles naturally generated when cosmic rays collide with molecules in the atmosphere, and they can be used to locate weak points in pipes and concrete.

  • FloodsMajor Midwest flood risk underestimated by as much as five feet: Study

    As floodwaters surge along major rivers in the Midwestern United States, a new study suggests federal agencies are underestimating historic 100-year flood levels on these rivers by as much as five feet, a miscalculation that has serious implications for future flood risks, flood insurance, and business development in an expanding floodplain. Moreover, high-water marks are inching higher as global warming makes megafloods more common.

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  • CybersecurityAbu Dhabi’s power system to be used for critical infrastructure cybersecurity study

    Abu Dhabi, UAE-based Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and MIT will use Abu Dhabi’s power system as a case study for developing a knowledge map of the power system and its cybersecurity shortcomings. The project is due to run for two years. At the end of this two year period, the collaborating institutions hope that data from the analysis of Abu Dhabi’s power system could be compared against data from the projects running concurrently in New York and Singapore to develop a comprehensive knowledge map, capable of being applied to critical infrastructure worldwide.

  • Coastal resilienceSea-level rise threatens $40 billion of national park assets, historical and cultural infrastructure

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell last week released a report revealing that national park infrastructure and historic and cultural resources totaling more than $40 billion are at high risk of damage from sea-level rise caused by climate change. The report was conducted by scientists from the National Park Service and Western Carolina University and is based on an examination of forty parks — about one-third of those considered threatened by sea-level rise — and the survey is on-going.

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  • Community resilienceTen universities join natural disaster preparedness initiative

    In March, Texas A&M urban planning researchers formed a new initiative with scientists from ten other universities to help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters. The headquarters of the coalition, the Community Resilience Center of Excellence, is based at Colorado State University. Colorado is centrally located in the United States, but the universities involved are spread across the country to maximize the reach of the research. Other universities — such as Rice University, the University of Oklahoma, and Texas A&M University-Kingsville — are contributing to the research to help create resilient communities through their own models of information.

  • Coastal resilienceUNC-Chapel Hill launches Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill officially launched its new Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC), made possible through a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, Office of University Programs five-year, $20 million grant. The CRC initiative led by UNC-Chapel Hill will include collaboration with more than a dozen partner universities to address the challenges facing communities across the United States which are vulnerable to coastal hazards.

  • Coastal resilienceProtecting coastal communities, critical infrastructure

    University of South Alabama (USA) researchers are joining a nationwide effort to help communities recover from disasters. The effort is the centerpiece of the Community Resilience Center of Excellence, which will be based at Colorado State University, and USA is one of ten universities offering their expertise. USA’s department of civil engineering will provide their unique coastal engineering knowledge related to hurricane storm surge and waves. “With well over 50 percent of the U.S. population living within fifty miles of a coastline, much of our nation’s critical infrastructure is vulnerable to coastal hazards and the expected impacts of long-term sea level rise,” said Prof. Bret Webb, an associate professor of civil engineering at USA.

  • ResilienceDisaster resilience competition generates innovative ideas

    The National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC), an innovative partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation, is already bearing fruit — even before the selection of any finalists or winners. The Foundation offers six examples of innovative, substantial steps that communities around the country are taking to create, and maintain, a culture of resilience.

  • Man-made earthquakesEarthquakes in Oklahoma linked to oil, gas drilling

    A new study finds that the recent spike in triggered earthquakes in Oklahoma is primarily due to the injection of wastewater produced during oil production. Geophysicists have identified the triggering mechanism responsible for the recent spike of earthquakes in parts of Oklahoma — a crucial first step in eventually stopping them. The study shows that the state’s rising number of earthquakes coincided with dramatic increases in the disposal of salty wastewater into the Arbuckle formation, a 7,000-foot-deep, sedimentary formation under Oklahoma.

  • FireGreen concrete is more fire-resistant

    Selecting materials with high fire endurance is particularly important when constructing tunnels and high-rise buildings, and when storing hazardous materials. Concrete made using an industrial by-product has shown better fire endurance than traditional concrete when exposed to fires of nearly 1,000 degrees Celsius.

  • ResilienceWe need to change how and where we build to be ready for a future of more extreme weather

    By Keith Krumwiede

    The human and economic losses resulting from extreme weather events during the last several years vividly demonstrate the U.S. historically shortsighted approach to development. The ill-advised, fast-paced construction of human settlements in low-lying, coastal and riverine environments prone to flooding has long been the American way. From Galveston to Hoboken, we have laid out our grids and thrown up our houses with little regard for the consequences. Storms like Sandy are a harbinger of extreme weather events to come as a result of climate change. Without concerted action, the costs, in lives and property, of future weather events will only multiply. Rather than spending $25 million on PR campaigns to convince ourselves we’re “stronger than the storm,” we should start making choices that prove we’re smarter. For while we can’t say when the next hurricane with the force of Sandy (or even greater force) will batter the Atlantic Coast or when extreme flooding will hit Texas, we do know that there will be a next time. And we’re still fundamentally unprepared for it. We can’t continue to bet against climate change; we’ll lose in the end.

  • Post-disaster rebuildingRebuilding a safer and stronger Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

    By Wendy Christie and Brigitte Laboukly

    Three months ago Cyclone Pam swept across Vanuatu, leaving 75,000 people in need of emergency shelter and damaging or destroying about 15,000 buildings, including homes, schools, and medical facilities. Since then, one of the most hotly debated questions within communities and on social media has been about how Vanuatu can rebuild so that it’s safer, stronger, and more resilient to future cyclones. Achieving this is not as simple as you might think. The strength and safety of buildings is critical — especially when you are rebuilding in a cyclone-prone region. But housing in particular is about more than walls and roofs; it’s also about community, traditions, culture, and supporting the way people want to live. While the strength of buildings and their ability to withstand cyclones are very important, so too are the strength and resilience of the people of Vanuatu, who have been living with the annual cyclone season for generations. The reconstruction of Vanuatu needs a diverse approach that is not solely reliant on quickly prefabricated or engineered solutions, and which keeps people at the heart of the rebuilding process.

  • Man-made earthquakesU.S. mid-continent seismic activity linked to high-rate injection wells

    A dramatic increase in the rate of earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S. since 2009 is associated with fluid injection wells used in oil and gas development, says a new study. The number of earthquakes associated with injection wells has skyrocketed from a handful per year in the 1970s to more than 650 in 2014. The increase included several damaging quakes in 2011 and 2012 ranging between magnitudes 4.7 and 5.6 in Prague, Oklahoma; Trinidad, Colorado; Timpson, Texas; and Guy, Arkansas. “We saw an enormous increase in earthquakes associated with these high-rate injection wells, especially since 2009, and we think the evidence is convincing that the earthquakes we are seeing near injection sites are induced by oil and gas activity,” says one of the study’s authors.