The National Academies

NCHRP 20-59(55) [Completed]

Transportation System Resilience: CEO Primer & Engagement

  Project Data
Funds: $300,000
Research Agency: Louis Berger & Associates
Principal Investigator: Ms. Deborah Matherly
Effective Date: 3/1/2017
Completion Date: 3/31/2022


The transportation community is focused on a new challenge facing the nation’s transportation systems. That challenge has become known as “resilience”: the nexus of preparing for the impacts of climate change (e.g., sea level rise, severe/extreme weather events) while responding to the catalog of system vulnerabilities and emergencies. Transportation agencies and others have slowly been developing a new appreciation for the challenges inherent in reconciling the similarities and distinctions among four inter-related topics:
- Critical Infrastructure
- System Risk Management
- Protection
- All Hazards Response
The development of a new strategy based on resilience includes a much broader range of options to help manage risks and recover from system disruptions. In this new paradigm, resilience does not replace the four concepts, but offers an overarching strategy that includes system risk management, protection, and preparedness as complementary strategies to prevent attacks and ward off threats, and adaptation, recovery, and other post-disruption strategies to restore normal transportation services. At the same time, transportation resilience can effectively support community resilience when transportation organizations plan for and accommodate unforeseen financial and economic conditions affecting system sustainability and regional economic conditions. System resiliency is ultimately a matter of context and connectedness and, much like safety, affects every major business function within a transportation agency including planning, project delivery, operations, and business management. The following table provides an example comparison among some of the more affected faces.

Emergency Management
Climate Change
Mission Focus
Plan, Prepare, Respond, Recover
Resist, Adapt
Resist, Adapt, Recover, Restore
  • Planned events
  • Incidents (incl. HAZMAT)
  • Weather events
  • Natural disasters
  • Terrorist incidents
  • Catastrophic incidents
New engineering specifications
Including, but not limited to:
  • Extreme weather impacts
  • Climate change impacts
  • Carbon reduction initiatives
  • Pandemics
Governance (communication, coordination, resources, etc.)
Varies but Public Safety Agency (PSA) generally provides Incident Command
Varies but State DOTs generally provide Project Management
Multiple agencies at all levels of government, including international + Community groups + NGOs + private sector
State DOT is not generally lead agency
Scale of Impact
Local - Regional
Superregional - Global
Duration of Disruption
Hours - Months
Months - Years
Years - Decades
Role of Transportation Agency
As needed in the jurisdiction;
Support evacuation and emergency access activities;
may be lead recovery agency for transportation repairs
Varies but State DOTs generally provide engineering and construction services
Policies and Standards
Mitigation Projects

Although cooperative research projects and others have produced a wealth of resilience-related studies, products, guidelines, and effective practices over the past two decades, there is still much that remains to be done prior to the 2018 National Summit on Transportation Resilience.  The Summit will be a significant component of NCHRP Project 20-117, which will organize a national summit and peer exchange on transportation resilience to be held in 2018 and co-sponsored by TRB, AASHTO (including the Special Committee on Transportation Security and Emergency Management, the Standing Committee on the Environment, and Resilient and Sustainable Transportation Systems), FHWA, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security, and other interested parties.


The objectives of this project are to develop a primer and a series of briefings for state DOT CEOs and senior executives on transportation resilience. Together with the resilience research roadmap and resilience white papers currently being developed under NCHRP Project 20-59(54), this series of products and activities will lead into and inform the research in NCHRP Project 20-59(117) that will culminate in a national summit and peer exchange on transportation resilience to be held in late 2018.Accomplishment of the project objectives will require at least the following tasks.


Prepare an executive-level primer on transportation resilience--a concise and easy-to-follow report to explain the implications and dimensions of the emerging focus on resilience in transportation and the potential impact on agency programs. (2.)  Develop briefing materials on transportation resilience and provide a series of engagement forums (briefings) to senior transportation executives prior to the 2018 National Summit on Transportation Resilience. These forums will also serve to gauge interest in and garner support for resilience-related activities including the Summit, the resilience research roadmap, and local resilience-focused initiatives. The briefings are to inform the CEOs, get feedback from the CEOs on the briefings, and determine how best to structure the Summit so that it is meaningful and effective. Proposers are expected to provide detailed research plans with additional tasks described that will lead to the desired objectives. At a minimum, the research plans must include an amplified work plan, an interim report and associated in-person meeting with the project panel, draft final deliverables, and revised final deliverables. Systems interdependencies and lifelines should figure prominently in the primer and briefings developed under NCHRP 20-59(55). Contractors for NCHRP 20-59(55) are strongly encouraged to employ a construct adapted from the 2006 National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) Risk Management Framework, which calls on each sector to identify those functions, assets, networks, systems, and people (FANSP) that make up the nation’s critical infrastructure and key resources (CI/KR).  That construct was further elaborated on in the May 2007 Transportation Systems: Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources Sector-Specific Plan as Input to the National Infrastructure Protection Plan.  Each resiliency topic in the primer should explore interdependencies associated with the functions, assets, networks, systems, and people at a DOT that are impacted by actions or inactions taken to build resiliency around the subject area. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials will assist with outreach to state DOT CEOs for the primer and engagement forums; ballot the draft primer; upon approval, publish and distribute the primer; and assist with arranging the presentation of findings to appropriate audiences (e.g., by providing up-to-date contact information, time on agendas, etc.). It is anticipated that development of the primer and briefings will be iterative, with the final version of the primer revised at the conclusion of the 2018 National Summit on Transportation Resilience.  Proposers are encouraged to detail how they propose to engage CEOs: (a) in person, by webinars, or phone calls; (b) all CEOs together, in small groups, one CEO at a time; and/or (c) at the CEOs location.

Complete. Published as NCHRP Research Report 976: Resilience Primer for Transportation Executives. A companion accordion-fold handout is also available: Resilience in Your Pocket.

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