i5 Bridge collapse on May 23, 2013 in Mount Vernon, Washington. © David Williams 2013

INFRASTRUCTURE IS, by design, largely unnoticed until it breaks down and services fail. This includes water supplies, gas pipelines, bridges and dams, phone lines and cell towers, roads and culverts, railways, and the electric grid—all of the complex systems that keep our societies and economies running. Climate change, population growth, increased urbanization, system aging, and outdated design standards stress existing infrastructure and its ability to satisfy the rapidly changing demands from users. The resilience of both physical and cyber infrastructure systems, however, is critical to a community as it prepares for, responds to, and recovers from a disaster, whether natural or man-made.

Overcoming these challenges requires communities to strengthen existing infrastructure and build new infrastructure using modern design, next-generation materials, and engineering methods that account for interdependencies.

This is where Argonne National Laboratory comes in. Argonne has established the Resilient Infrastructure Initiative to promote strategies for reducing risk to critical infrastructure and designing future infrastructure systems to minimize the consequences of service disruptions. These strategies are highlighted below.

1. Build infrastructure interdependency computer simulations to design resilient infrastructure systems that minimize the impacts of disasters

Major hazards, whether natural or man-made directly impact infrastructure and erode the ability to function normally. These effects are exacerbated when the functionality of one infrastructure system depends on other, damaged infrastructure systems. Argonne is developing next-generation models to understand the interdependencies across the four lifeline infrastructure sectors: energy, water and wastewater, transportation, and communications. The creation of a science-based, integrated modeling framework in which two-way interdependencies are explicitly modeled will significantly advance the systems-level understanding of connected systems in communities. It will also identify unknown risks that emerge from such complex systems.

The first Resilient Infrastructure Initiative research and development project focused on fully automating and integrating existing energy system modeling tools (i.e., EPfast for electric power and NGfast for natural gas) to anticipate cascading failures and support the analysis of infrastructure interdependencies. Argonne conducted a failure analysis to define how a natural hazard or a human threat would affect energy infrastructure. This failure analysis characterized the initial state of energy infrastructure, which served as an input to the integrated model.

Argonne integrated EPfast and NGfast model capabilities using a data-centric modeling and simulation framework. The two models ran in an iterative process until the results converged. This approach was necessary because of the inherent interdependencies between the electric power and natural gas infrastructures: outages in electric power assets can trigger outages in natural gas assets and vice versa until there are no further failures. Dynamic visualizations of this integrated model depicted the interactions between the electric power and natural gas infrastructures, showed cascading failures, and identified geographic areas, populations, and businesses affected by the degradation of energy infrastructures. In a case study, Argonne’s model results illustrated the detailed impacts of an electrical power outage in one state that led to a reduction in natural gas supply in multiple states far from the initial site of the disruption.

The general concept behind the project was to test the possibility of integrating existing infrastructure modeling tools and developing a flexible computational architecture that can integrate new modules with minimal effort. Ultimately, the concepts and computing framework developed in this project will serve as the foundation for future efforts. With a flexible computing architecture, additional datasets (e.g., asset data, hazard data) and modules can be incorporated in a straightforward way with the goal of uncovering unknown, systemic risks.

2. Create a virtual user facility focused on modeling and data-exchange to improve disaster planning, emergency response, and community recovery

State, local, tribal, and territorial governments, as well as the private sector (e.g., investor-owned, federal, municipal, and cooperative utilities) could benefit from advanced modeling, computational tools, and technical research and development that advance infrastructure resilience. Argonne’s goal is to lead the creation of a virtual user facility focused on infrastructure resilience, available for external use by public and private sector partners to advance scientific and technical knowledge. This virtual user facility will provide a centralized platform with data, models, and tools to help governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations better understand risks to infrastructure across a range of scenarios, as well as the implications of infrastructure system changes. This improved understanding will help infrastructure owners and operators, planners, and communities more effectively allocate limited resources to manage risk.

3. Develop new materials and technologies to strengthen infrastructure and reduce risk

In addition to advanced modeling, communities need the technological and physical engineering capabilities to design infrastructure that addresses future threats and the risks they pose. Argonne’s goal is to drive development of new materials and technologies through experimentation and simulation. These developments will be a basis for new standards that communities can adopt when they need to rebuild stronger and safer. Argonne’s unique facilities and tools, such as the Advanced Photon Source, Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, and Materials Design Laboratory, will propel this research. Examples include, testing the properties of materials under extreme conditions that lead to more robust grid components; designing materials to address failing transportation systems (e.g. bridges and roads); building and deploying sensing technologies to enable real-time situational awareness; and developing and downscaling global climate models to predict the climate change impact by region and gauge climate implications on infrastructure services.

The Havana Pond Dam, which receives storm water runoff from the City of Denver, Colorado breached and failed on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 © USFWS Mountain-Prairie 2013


Argonne’s work in achieving these strategic goals can provide numerous benefits to a variety of stakeholders.

• Building innovative capabilities to increase community resilience. A challenge of this scale and complexity requires the research and development community to use science to create practical solutions. Argonne’s advancements in interdependency modeling allow us to provide decision-makers with user-friendly and technically sound tools to help them effectively allocate resources to infrastructure resilience.

• Making science accessible to local communities and owners/operators to manage risk. State, local, tribal and territorial governments and infrastructure owners and operators need the technical capabilities and assistance for their planning processes (e.g., mitigation, land use, and response) and disaster response and recovery operations. The Resilient Infrastructure Virtual User Facility will streamline delivery of research, models, tools, and technologies to communities, industry, and research partners.

• Advancing materials and technology for resilient design. In addition to modeling capabilities, communities need scientific, technological, and engineering capabilities to help design infrastructure systems based on future risk. Resilient infrastructure design will become increasingly critical as communities experience more intense disasters more frequently and are consequently faced with building and re-building critical infrastructure for near-term needs and long-term resilience.

Now is the time

Our nation’s infrastructure and the public it serves is facing increasing risk from natural and man-made disasters, climate change, deterioration from age, and growing and shifting populations. We can no longer afford to be just reactive. Nor can we design and build infrastructure to withstand future worst-case conditions based on outdated historical records. If we do, infrastructure will be obsolete before it is up and running. We must proactively research, model, redesign, and build the infrastructure of our country for long-term sustainability using the best that science, engineering, and technology has to offer. At Argonne, we aim to do just that—advance the science and technology needed to revolutionize the design of future infrastructure systems. In doing so, science and technology will play a vital role in helping to protect lives and property when disaster strikes.


The work presented in this paper was partially supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science under contract number DE-AC02-06CH11357. The submitted manuscript has been created by UChicago Argonne, LLC, Operator of Argonne. Argonne, a DOE Office of Science laboratory, is operated under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357. The U.S. Government retains for itself, and others acting on its behalf, a paid-up nonexclusive, irrevocable worldwide license in said article to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies to the public, and perform publicly and display publicly, by or on behalf of the Government. If you would like more information regarding the Resilient Infrastructure Initiative presented in this paper, please contact Megan Clifford at mclifford@anl.gov.


Portante, E.C., B.A. Craig, L. Talaber Malone, J. Kavicky, and S.M. Folga, 2011, “EPfast: A Model for Simulating Uncontrolled Islanding in Large Power Systems,” Proceedings of the 2011 Winter Simulation Conference, S. Jain, R.R. Creasey, J. Himmelspach, K.P. White, and M. Fu, eds., IEEE, pp. 1758–1769, available at http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/login.jsp?tp=&arnumber=6147891&url=http%3A%2F%2Fieeexplore.ieee.org%2Fxpls%2Fabs_all.jsp%3Farnumber%3D6147891, (accessed November 13, 2015).

Portante, E.C., B.A. Craig, and S.M. Folga, 2007, “NGfast: Rapid Assessment of Impacts of Natural Gas Pipeline Breaks at U.S. Borders and Import Points,” Proceedings of the 2007 Winter Simulation Conference, S.G. Henderson, B. Biller, M.-H. Hsieh, J. Shortle, J.D. Tew, and R.R. Barton, eds., Informs, available at http://www.informs-sim.org/wsc07papers/130.pdf (accessed November 13, 2015).