How to Create Smart, Resilient Infrastructure

Cities worldwide are investing in smart infrastructure projects that incorporate data collection in traditional structure construction and restoration


By Mary Velan


Cities worldwide are investing in smart infrastructure projects that incorporate data collection in traditional structure construction and restoration. By adding sensors to gather information, city developers are able to better understand activities within a community, as well as enable communication between other structures or vehicles. Such infrastructure improvements are key to identifying areas of inefficiency and designing solutions for a more sustainable future.

Bridge Sensors

The Memorial Bridge running over the Piscataqua River between New Hampshire and Maine will become a test bed for smart technologies that enable structures to communicate directly with city engineers. The 1,200-foot-long bridge is being transformed into a self-diagnosing, self-reporting smart infrastructure able to collect and transmit data in real time using 250 sensors. These data collectors will monitor a variety of variables on the bridge including:

  • Traffic
  • Vibration
  • Stress
  • Temperature
  • Wind
  • Humidity
  • Precipitation
  • Water Quality
  • Turbidity
  • Effects of small ship impacts

The smart bridge will be powered by a tidal engine turbine on a bridge pier, Engineering News-Record reported.

The $355,000 project is being funded by the departments of transportation for Maine and New Hampshire as well as the Federal Highway Administration. The goal of the project is to collect data over the next three years to address local needs with sustainable solutions. Planners expect to utilize this information to influence the future use of similar designs.

Future Smart City Insights

Bechtel engineering company created an online guide to help federal and city officials create smart and resilient urban infrastructure. The guide is based on a Roadmap for Resilience report that studied eight cities across the country currently working on projects to develop resilient urban infrastructure - including San Francisco, Miami Beach and New Orleans. According to the guide, city officials and planners can transform a city with smart infrastructure by:

  • Changing the way you think about infrastructure
  • Formulating a strategy
  • Ensure your city’s infrastructure systems span multiple sectors
  • Identify breakthrough resilience opportunities for your city
  • Build redundancy into your city’s infrastructure

City planners should approach each project as a cog in a machine, not an isolated initiative in the community. Planners must see infrastructure as integrated components that work both independently and collaboratively within a city network. Furthermore, resilience cannot be achieved my replicating a successful model. Each project must be catered to a specific site and need in the community.

What To Consider

The guide explains smart, resilient infrastructure systems offer a myriad of benefits to a community when properly deployed, such as:

  • Generating multiple benefits and capture value across sectors and geographies
  • More efficient and robust structures in the face of shocks and stress
  • Continuing to provide a level of essential services to communities during, and in the aftermath of, adverse events
  • Faster recovery after disruptions

When deciding where to start, city planners can ask a few basic questions of the local community:

  • Where is your city losing money or incurring increased costs?
  • What is your city’s greatest unfunded need or mandate?
  • What are the specific hazards, risks and threats to your city?
  • What do these risks and issues have in common? Are they the root cause of several problems or a symptom of another underlying problem?
  • If there was one thing you could start to build or change in your city in the next two years, what would it be?

While it is imperative to connect smart infrastructure to other components in the community, it is also important to build the structure in a way to prevent it from taking down the entire system in the event of a failure. To ensure resilient infrastructure is able to proactively protect against adverse conditions, planners must built redundancy and decentralization into the system. By building a diverse collection of structures that back up each service within the infrastructure system, planners can maintain efficiency while avoiding risk of total collapse when emergency strikes.

Furthermore, resilient systems must be able to expand, adjust, enable repair and recovery, and continually provide services to the community in the face of changing needs and conditions. This consistency is key to the overall efficiency of smart infrastructure projects.