Studying the impact of disasters like hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Harvey in Houston, I realize that as scientists and engineers, we are good at managing risks and preparing for potential adversity within our specific fields. But in order to really build cities that are able to deal with stress or disaster, this fragmented approach falls short. We don’t just need dikes which are high enough to withstand rising water levels and power lines which can withstand a storm, we need to look at disaster management, power supply, communication, organization, hydraulic engineering and many other aspects in an integrated way. I believe Resilience Engineering offers a method to do so and can help us become less vulnerable. That is especially relevant at this moment, where technological innovation helps us forward but also makes us more dependent on the power grid and internet access, while the climate keeps changing and we move closer and closer together in ever-expanding cities.
In my research, I analyze how systems of systems work, in areas such as those that have been affected by a flood. In that sense, I already have a resilience approach to research. But I would be really interested in working with other disciplines like cyber security or computer science for the projects I am involved in. Much of the Delta Works in the Netherlands, including pumps and barriers, is digitally controlled. What happens, for example, if a foreign force hacks those systems and shuts down the pumps? Within weeks, much of the farmland and residential areas of Zuid-Holland could be under water. How can we prepare for a situation like that?
I am excited about combining forces and expertise in the field of resilience with the four technical universities of the Netherlands. That will help us enrich our research and broaden our scope. Meanwhile, I also want to ensure that the Centre stays in touch with real world engineering and design. We will do this by connecting with people outside of academia, for example with the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, both of which aspire to become resilient cities. I think these types of concrete cases can also make for excellent graduation projects for our students.