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Civil and Environmental Engineering

Risk & Reliability

Engineers around the world have adopted risk & reliability assessment methods and management practices pioneered by Vanderbilt.

As civil structures, critical infrastructure such as conventional transportation systems, aerospace technology, dams, bridges, and other major facilities have become smarter, more complex, and expected to perform reliably and safely over longer time intervals and at extreme conditions.  This presents a challenge to predict how well they will perform and what risks might need to be addressed in their design and operation.  Moreover, managers in both the public and private sectors must accommodate this information in making decisions of whether and how to invest in risk mitigation strategies.

Read Research Snapshots: Dr. Mark Abkowitz & Dr. Sankaran Mahadevan

Research in this area is focused on the following topics:

  • Enterprise risk management
  • Risk assessment methodologies and best practices
  • Mitigation and adaptation strategies in response to climate change
  • Durability, fatigue and fracture in materials and structures
  • Structural health monitoring and damage detection
  • Decision making under uncertainty and optimization of large complex systems

Specific research activities within these areas includes:

  • Freight transportation network optimization
  • Simulation of climate change scenarios in vulnerable areas
  • Maritime risk assessment
  • Application of risk benchmarking and prioritization techniques
  • Optimization of financial investment in risk mitigation strategies 
  • Concrete structures durability for nuclear waste containment
  • Long-term durability of bridge structures
  • Moisture degradation of asphalt pavements
  • Fatigue and fracture of railroad wheels, aircraft and rotorcraft components
  • Sensor layout optimization for structural health monitoring
  • Advanced modeling for damage detection, isolation and quantification
  • Health monitoring with imperfect, imprecise, noisy, uncertain data
  • Reliability inspection planning for large population systems
  • Multidisciplinary optimization and decision making under uncertainty
  • Critical facility protection against terrorist attacks
  • Security and reliability of water-distribution systems
  • Heterogeneous systems risk-informed decision making
  • Emergency preparedness and response to mass casualty events
  • Human reliability modeling for systems risk assessment
  • Military operations modeling and optimization
  • Quantitative metrics for model quality assessment

Research Snapshot

Mark Abkowitz, Professor of Civil and Environmental EngineeringProfessor Mark Abkowitz, Vanderbilt University School of Engineering

Dr. Abkowitz specializes in enterprise risk management, hazardous materials transportation safety and security, assesment of the impacts of energy choices and climate change, and the strategic and operational deployment of intelligent transportation systems.   He leads a research group that is developing and field-testing a new enterprise risk management protocol, utilizing geographic information systems technology and network analysis techniques to identify high-risk locations on various freight transportation systems, and facilitating a multidisciplinary effort to develop a risk management plan for responding to climate change.  Dr. Abkowitz is currently a member of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, having been appointed to this position by President George W. Bush in June 2002.  He is the author of Operational Risk Management: A Case Study Approach to Effective Planning and Response, recently published by John Wiley & Sons.  He is also a weekly contributor to the Monday Risk Report, a blog devoted to discussing world events that have important risk management implications. Dr. Abkowitz complete profile>>

Research Snapshot

Sankaran Mahadevan, Professor of Civil and Environmental EngineeringDr. Mahadevan, Vanderbilt University

Professor Mahadevan is a world leader in structural reliability research, developing methods for adaptive simulation, systems reliability analysis, probabilistic finite element analysis and reliability-based optimization.  His research is being used to design and evaluate many critical systems, including aerospace structures, roadway and bridge maintenance, nuclear waste disposal, and hydraulic structures.  He is principal investigator on an NSF Interdisciplinary Graduate Research and Training (IGERT) program on risk and reliability engineering and management. Dr. Mahadevan complete profile>>