New UGA institute seeks solutions to major infrastructure challenges

Ocean waves destroy roadwayThe University of Georgia has created a research institute that will work to help communities rethink, transform and adapt their infrastructure in a time of rapid environmental and social change.

The Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems will be administered by the College of Engineering and will include faculty members from more than nine academic units across campus. Faculty in the new institute will explore ways to strengthen traditional “gray” infrastructure systems—such as water and sewage treatment, urban drainage, energy and transportation— and to integrate them with “green” and “blue” infrastructure—green spaces, bodies of water, and ecosystems that perform vital functions such as buffering storms and cleansing water and air.

Brian Bledsoe

Brian Bledsoe

“The institute will be nationally unique in that it unites engineering with ecology, environmental design and planning, atmospheric science, law and policy, public health, and other disciplines to effectively combine green and gray infrastructure solutions for resilience to weather and climate-related extremes,” said Brian Bledsoe, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Resilient Infrastructure and the institute’s inaugural director. “By bringing together UGA’s diverse strengths we hope to produce integrative research that can be used by communities, businesses and governments to mitigate risks through improved decision-making and infrastructure design at a variety of scales.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that investments of more than $3 trillion are needed in the next decade to repair and maintain existing infrastructure systems, most of which are not designed to accommodate climate extremes, increased urbanization and demographic shifts. Ensuring that infrastructure systems perform reliably, bounce back from adverse events, and enhance community well-being across many potential scenarios is essential for security and sustainability, Bledsoe said.

“The Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems is a perfect example of UGA’s interdisciplinary approach to solving the major challenges facing society,” said College of Engineering Dean Donald J. Leo. “While engineering has a special responsibility in the design of next generation infrastructure systems, this is a challenge that requires us to transcend disciplinary boundaries to find the best solutions.”

In addition to the College of Engineering, the new institute will feature faculty collaborations with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government (a public service and outreach unit), the College of Environment and Design, the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, the Odum School of Ecology, the College of Public Health and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

The new institute plans to develop and offer graduate and professional certificate programs in resilient infrastructure, according to Bledsoe. In addition, institute faculty will design an interdisciplinary concentration in infrastructure systems under the existing Ph.D. in engineering degree.

Partners and experts from business, industry, government and other fields will play a role in the Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems through two external advisory boards that will provide input on strategic directions.

Photo: NOAA

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