U.Va.'s Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems Creates Models Used Worldwide to Shed Light on Today's Difficult Questions

The Interdependence of Infrastructures has Big Implications

January 17, 2008 — Infrastructures — the basic physical systems of a country or community's population, including roads, utilities and water — are essential for our daily lives. According to Yacov Y. Haimes, Lawrence Quarles Professor in the Systems and Information Engineering Department at the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science and founding director of the Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems, infrastructures are also essential for maintaining economic productivity.

"Critical infrastructures and industry sectors of the economy are physically and logically interdependent systems; they share flows of information, security and physical exchanges of commodities," he said. "There is an urgent need to model, assess and manage the cascading failures of these interdependent systems, and, consequently, the risks these system present to the nation."

This is precisely what Haimes and his Center for Risk Management colleagues, Systems and Information Engineering Department professors Barry Horowitz, Jim Lambert, Joost Santos and Kenneth Crowther, focus on — risk-based decision-making, multi-objective tradeoff analysis and hierarchical analysis of large-scale systems by looking at the whole picture. One of the few centers in the country to apply risk assessment and management to engineering and technology-based systems, the center recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. ("We celebrated by taking on more projects," Haimes joked.)

These projects include cyber security, an investigation into emergency response, and a novel economic model and its applications, among others.

Although most of us think of our infrastructures as secure entities, the opposite is true. Today, roadways, gas pipeline and electrical grids are controlled remotely through what is known as supervisory control and data acquisition, or SCADA, systems, which leaves them at high risk for hacking and disturbances. Funded by the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection and the Department of Homeland Security, the center developed ways to make these remote SCADA systems more robust and secure.

In addition, as part of a project commissioned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Department of Homeland Security, the team is investigating how best to coordinate local, state and federal responses to emergencies. Currently, the center's researchers are applying a risk-based approach to multi-objective tradeoff analyses between investments in preparedness vs. resilience (resilience connotes an acceptable recovery time and cost following a natural disaster or a terrorist attack).

The research with the most impact — and that is garnering the most attention, according to Haimes — is the center's project on infrastructure interdependency. As part of the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection — a consortium comprised of universities, national labs, nonprofit institutions and federally funded research and development centers dedicated to strengthening the nation's infrastructure. — U.Va.'s Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems has altered Nobel prize winner Wassily Leontief's input-output economic model to evaluate the cascading impacts of an incident (e.g., the 2003 Northeast blackout), a terrorist attack (e.g., the Sept. 11 attacks), or a natural disaster (e.g., hurricane Katrina) due to the interconnectedness and interdependencies among all infrastructures and sectors of the economy.

This new model, highlighting the sectors' interrelationships, is named the inoperability input/output model. Using data provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Haimes' team is able to show how much one compromised sector would affect another sector. These impacts are calculated in terms of lost dollars and in the percentage of the inoperability (dysfunctionality) of all affected infrastructures and economic sectors.

The results can inform everything from how we operate day-to-day to how we can best prepare for an emergency. The new model has already been used by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, among others.

Haimes' lifetime dedication to improving processes and solving problems has been recognized,  especially as a result of his work on water resources and the environment. In December 2007, Haimes was named the 2007 Arthur Maass-Gilbert White Fellow by the Army Corps of Engineers' Institute for Water Resources for his "body of work, commitment to scholarship and ground breaking work on risk analysis methods in water resources." In addition, he recently received the Icko Iben Award from The American Water Resources Association "in recognition of promoting understanding and communication between disciplines involving water resources." Currently, Haimes is working on the third edition of his book, "Risk Modeling, Assessment, and Management," published by John Wiley & Sons.

"I'm thrilled about Yacov's contributions to the world and, especially, his recent recognitions for his body of work," said James H. Aylor, dean of U.Va.'s Engineering School. "The work that Yacov and his team are doing is so salient to our everyday lives. By combining engineering and economics, his work is proof that today's challenges to strengthen the infrastructure of the U.S. will require growing the engineering talent."