Background and History

A Brief Overview

The U.S. has a multi-trillion dollar investment in civil infrastructure systems (NSF, Program Announcement for ICIS, March, 1997). While the quality and performance of infrastructure are vital to the nation's economic and social well-being, by most accounts this investment has not been prudently managed for sustainability. ICIS was established on the basis that new knowledge is needed to provide the intellectual support for infrastructure decisions necessary to sustain economic growth, environmental quality, and improved societal health well into the next century. Such knowledge can only be initiated through research that is interdisciplinary. To assist in defining an integrative research agenda for Civil Infrastructure System research, NSF supported the Workshop on Integrated Research in Civil Infrastructure, convened by New York University, and held July 15-17, 1996 in Washington, DC. It was aimed at a wide audience of academics and practitioners engaged in the work of improving the quality and functioning of infrastructure systems. The resulting research agenda created the basis for the establishment of The Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems (ICIS) in January 1998 at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service with funding from the National Science Foundation. ICIS began as an interdisciplinary partnership of New York University, Cornell University, Polytechnic University of New York, and the University of Southern California with its members drawn from applied social science and engineering disciplines.

During its initial years, ICIS engaged in a number of research, education and dissemination activities related to a systems approach to infrastructure services for the promotion of sustainable communities. In April, 1999 ICIS held a Conference on the Coordinated Renewal of Civil Infrastructure Systems for Sustainable Human Environments. ICIS also supported and co-organized the Social Sustainability of Technological Networks Seminar, an international research seminar held in April 2001. It was the outcome of a collaboration between ICIS and the Laboratoire Techniques Territoires Societes (LATTS-Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees (ENPC), France) and the Journal of Urban Technology. The seminar convened two dozen scholars drawn from social studies and history of science and technology, urban planning, architecture, geography, and engineering in various infrastructure areas. The results of this conference were later published as a book titled Sustaining Urban Networks: the Social Diffusion of Large Technical Systems published by Routledge in 2005.

Workshops and conferences were also held in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Information and Life Extension Technologies. As part of an ongoing effort to highlight current and stimulate future developments in GIS, ICIS, in partnership with KeySpan Corporation, hosted the National Forum on Advanced GIS Applications and Database Needs for Civil Infrastructure Systems on October 26-27, 2000 at KeySpan’s headquarters in Brooklyn’s Metrotech Center. The forum brought together nearly one hundred geospatial technology and infrastructure experts and practitioners from industry, government, and academia. Their presentations and facilitated discussions addressed the current status and future potential of GIS applications for infrastructure decision-making and management. That work has provided the foundation for ICIS’ use of GIS as a fundamental analytical tool for its infrastructure research.  In addition, ICIS assisted Polytechnic University in organizing a Life Extension Technologies Workshop in August 1999. Participants at the workshop included representatives from industry, government and utilities from various countries. The purpose of the workshop was to exchange information about the technologies and the opportunities for and barriers to their implementation across a wide range of utility sectors.

Another major part of the ICIS work during its first years was to engage stakeholders for the purpose of developing collaborative research agendas for civil infrastructure systems. Two major conferences were held. The first was Bringing Information Technology to Infrastructure: A Workshop to Develop a Research Agenda. It was held in June 2001. A final report on the workshop was completed in July 2002. The workshop was also the starting point of a series of discussions and papers that were later developed into the book Digital Infrastructures: Enabling Civil and Environmental Systems through Information Technology, published by Routledge in 2004.

In October 2001, ICIS held another agenda-setting workshop, the First Conference on Infrastructure Priorities: The National Infrastructure Research Agenda in Washington, DC. The conference was divided into four main tracks: Valuation and Finance; Advanced Technologies; Community Engagement; and Institutions and Decision-making. The conference convened over one hundred members of the CIS community around the theme of infrastructure research needs. Participants represented a dozen and a half different disciplines. 

Since 2004, ICIS received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and other sources.

A major area of research at ICIS is the sustainability of urban areas. Over the last few years ICIS has been a research partner of the South Bronx Environmental Health and Policy Study. The main goal of this project is to study environmental and health issues affecting the South Bronx with particular emphasis on the relationships between air quality, transportation, waste transfer activity, demographic characteristics, and public health. The study is a collaboration between ICIS, the NYU School of Medicine’s Nelson Institute of Environmental Medicine (NIEM), and four South Bronx community groups: The Point CDC, We Stay/Nos Quedamos, The Sports Foundation and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. This research has broader application and transferability to issues of health and the environment that potentially threaten urbanized areas throughout the world.

Since the expiration of the initial grant by NSF in 2005, the research focus of ICIS has shifted to focus on security and interdependencies for infrastructure in the context of homeland security.

In 2004, ICIS became part of the first U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center for Excellence, the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), based at USC. Along with the University of Southern California (USC), the University of Wisconsin Madison and Structured Decisions Corporation, ICIS is a core partner of CREATE. ICIS’ initial research analyzed global examples of terrorist attacks on electric power systems to examine potential cascading effects that could be exacerbated by interdependencies between infrastructure systems if there was an attack on the nation’s electric power infrastructure. The research also included tools to estimate the economic costs of a potential terrorist attack on this critical infrastructure system broadly applicable to other infrastructures and geographic areas.

Additionally, ICIS is working on two homeland security initiatives in partnership with NYU’s Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response (CCPR), also funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The first project, a collaboration between ICIS and other NYU researchers led by the NYU School of Medicine, develops and tests critical communication strategies and plans for community public health preparedness, response, and mitigation of event consequences before, during and after a large scale, urban terrorist event. The second project identifies relationships between traditional infrastructure services and emergency services, and vulnerabilities at interconnection points that could create choke points between these two kinds of services during emergencies. This work creates a foundation to prepare to coordinate the needs of managers and operators of both traditional infrastructure services and emergency services.

ICIS is also part of the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (The I3P), a consortium that includes academic institutions, federally-funded labs and non-profit organizations. The I3P brings experts together to identify and help mitigate threats aimed at the U.S. information infrastructure. ICIS’ initial research for I3P uses an empirically-based approach based on statistical analyses of event databases, to build systematic knowledge about the nature and performance of interconnections between Process Control Systems, of which Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems are a part, and critical infrastructures with particular focus on the oil and gas industries.

Urban planning and policy, core educational and research areas of the Wagner School, play a central role in ICIS research.  The Institute combines these areas with partnering institution expertise in infrastructure engineering, management, and social science, incorporating a diverse set of participating organizations and individuals.