Infrastructure Performance and Risk Assessment under Extreme Weather and Climate Change Conditions

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation explores the impact of climate change and extreme weather events on critical infrastructures as defined by US Department of Homeland Security. The focus is on two important critical infrastructure systems – Water and Transportation. Critical infrastructures are always under the risk of threats such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters, faulty management practices, regulatory policies, and defective technologies and system designs. Measuring the performance and risks of critical infrastructures is complex due to its network, geographic and dynamic characteristics and multiplicity of stakeholders associated with them. Critical infrastructure systems in crowded urban and suburban areas like the Washington Metropolitan Area (WMA) are subject to increased risk from geographic proximity. Moreover, climate is challenging the assumption of stationary (the idea that natural systems fluctuate within an unchanging envelope of variability) that is the foundation of water resource engineering and planning. Within this context, this research uses concepts of systems engineering such as 'systems thinking' and 'system dynamics' to understand, analyze, model, simulate, and critically assess a critical infrastructure system's vulnerability to extreme natural events and climate change. In most cases, transportation infrastructure is designed to withstand either the most extreme or close to the most extreme event that will add abnormal stresses on a physical structure. The system may fail to perform as intended if the physical structure faces an event larger than what it is designed for. The results of the transportation study demonstrate that all categories of roadways are vulnerable to climate change and that the magnitude of bridge vulnerability to future climate change is variable depending on which climate model projection is used. Results also show that urbanization and land use patterns affects the susceptibility of the bridge to failures. Similarly, results of the water study indicate that the WMA water supply system may suffer from water shortages accruing due to future droughts but climate change is expected to improve water supply reliability due to an upward trend in precipitation and streamflow.



infrastructure performance, water supply management, reliability, climate change