Research Addresses Security of Inland Waterways

Study examines interdependence of river, land and rail systems

 Transportation researchers at the University of Arkansas are working to develop a national decision-support system to help local, state and federal law-enforcement and emergency-management agencies identify commercially important rivers and infrastructure that may be especially vulnerable to a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

“We’re trying to develop a fundamental understanding of the critical interdependence of multi-modal and intermodal transportation systems as they relate to the nation’s inland waterway system,” said Heather Nachtmann, associate professor of industrial engineering and director of the Mack-Blackwell Rural Transportation Center. “Specifically, we want to enable law-enforcement and emergency-management agencies by providing vital information about commercially important rivers and the various infrastructure connected to these rivers.”

The United States has approximately 12,000 navigable miles of commercially used rivers that may be vulnerable to attack, natural disaster or accidental events, Nachtmann said. If such an event were to occur, commercial traffic on these rivers could not be quickly or easily replaced by other modes of transportation, such as rail or trucking, to re-route goods and services. The loss of these waterways and related infrastructure, such as bridges, canal locks and pipelines, would have immediate and adverse social and economic impacts on a region or possibly the entire nation.

With $200,000 in initial funding from Homeland Security, Nachtmann and colleagues at the Mack-Blackwell Center are developing a system, called Supporting Secure and Resilient Inland Waterways, that they hope will evolve into a prototype for the decision-support system. The project includes geospatial data, computer-based cargo prioritization and freight-routing models, and an emergency response model for inland waterway transportation systems. The researchers recently received $220,000 in additional funding to continue the project.

A primary goal of the project is to understand the interdependence of transportation systems that use water, land and rail for shipping goods. Specifically, the researchers seek to quantify the impact of this interdependence on the vulnerability and resiliency of inland waterway transportation.

“Vulnerability and resilience are ‘two sides of the same coin,’ as both represent the capability of the system to withstand threats,” Nachtmann said. “Vulnerability represents where and how the system can be affected by threats, whereas resilience represents the ability of the system to recover from those threats.”

Previously, Nachtmann and researchers at the Mack-Blackwell Center conducted a seminal study on the security of U.S. rural transportation networks. This study provided an efficient tool to assess the vulnerability of rural transportation assets and was designed to help officials develop and implement plans for emergency preparedness.

Authorized by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, the Mack-Blackwell Rural Transportation Center develops comprehensive research, education and training in rural transportation systems. As a Department of Homeland Security National Transportation Security Center of Excellence, the center is dedicated to solving critical scientific and technological issues related to transportation security.

Nachtmann is holder of the John L. Imhoff Endowed Chair of Industrial Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas.

Release date: 9/7/2011