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In the Classroom: Combining policy and engineering to assess Massport’s infrastructure


A group of policy and engineering graduate students in the “Critical Infrastructure Resilience” course at Northeastern University are applying the skills they learned in class to evaluate Massport’s vulnerabilities and recommend improvements.

Together, they have assessed the critical infrastructures that support operations at Logan International Airport—one of three airports operated by Massport—and identified risks within its transportation, energy and communication sectors. Now, they must condense their semester-long research into a one-hour presentation to the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Massport’s CEO, and other key decision makers.

“It’s critical to understand these systems and then bring in the information you have,” professor Stephen Flynn told his students on Thursday, Nov. 3. “You have the chance to present your final recommendations to the people who make the decisions.”

During class on Nov. 3, Rose Leopold, a double husky and first-year student in the MS in Security and Resilience Studies (SRS), and Lizzy Warner, a first-year student in the PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering, presented their peers’ findings, which were based on information provided by Massport and students’ observations during a fieldtrip to the port authority’s facilitates. They discussed interdependencies, potential hazards and recommendations.

“Understanding critical infrastructure resilience and how to make our infrastructure more resilient to natural hazards and man-made hazards like terrorism is incredibly important,” Leopold said in an interview. “And understanding the tools to visualize those interdependencies between different critical infrastructure sectors will be important if I want to go into government or consulting.”

For Leopold, who hopes to address climate change resilience in developing countries after graduation, “Critical Infrastructure Resilience” is one of Northeastern’s most unique classes because it bridges policy with engineering and encourages students from various disciplines to work together.

The course, co-taught by Flynn, a faculty member in the SRS program, and Auroop R. Ganguly, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, examines how to best safeguard the critical foundations that provide transport, communications, water, energy, and other essential functions when confronted with disasters, growing urbanization, climate change, and globalization. It is a required course for students enrolled in the SRS program, which is designed to help public and private sector professionals manage many of the challenges unique to today’s world including terrorism, cyber-attacks and natural disasters.

“The thing I take away from this course is it has given me tools and methodologies that I can use in my own professional career,” said Christopher Bach, a student in the SRS program who is graduating in December.

Mary Weinburg, however, feels the most important aspect of the course is the interaction it fosters between policy and engineering students. “I’ve never worked with engineers before,” said Weinburg, a first-year SRS student. “I get to experience the engineering tools that actual engineers use, so that’s really interesting.”

And Lizzy Warner feels learning how to visually demonstrate networks using Gephi, a network visualization platform, and interpreting those images is a unique skillset students acquire through the course. “It’s not just knowing how to interpret the data, but knowing how to manipulate the data, too,” she said.

To learn more about “Critical Infrastructure Resilience” and other SRS courses, visit the MS in Security and Resilience Studies website.


Published On: November 7, 2016 |
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