Infrastructure systems - transportation systems, power grid, water supply, waste disposal, fuel supply chain, communication networks - facilitate basic societal functions of the nation and play a vital role in our economy. In the US, even on the West Coast, urban infrastructure systems are often more than a century old. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given our nation’s infrastructure below acceptable ratings for many years. Furthermore, the National Academy of Engineers has identified Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure as one of the 14 Grand Challenges in Engineering (http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/).
Events such as the I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapse in Minneapolis during rush hour on August 1, 2007, have underscored the tremendous and immediate need for improved policy choices regarding the resilience and sustainability of our infrastructure. Maintaining our infrastructure systems requires continuous attention and tremendous resources, and traditional methods for monitoring and maintenance of our infrastructure are expensive, time consuming, inconsistent and inefficient. The well-being of these systems has a direct impact on economic growth and national security.
Management and policy issues associated with these infrastructure systems must consider their entire lifecycle, including planning, construction, use, re-use, and decommissioning. Significant knowledge can be acquired for decision-making through the use of data acquired through real-time monitoring systems. Thus, a shift is needed from considering our infrastructure systems and networks in isolation, to strategically making policy and management decisions based on the entire lifecycle of our built environment. It is in the intersection between engineering and social policy where such things as building code modification, energy policy and provisions, and risk mitigation programs, are negotiated and enacted. Novel and bold policy strategies to implement the engineering solutions, grounded in quantitative studies considering the impact on our social and human systems, need to be developed.