Founded in 1852, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) represents more than 146,000 members of the civil engineering profession worldwide and is America's oldest national engineering society. ASCE is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as a standards development organization that produces consensus standards under the direction of its Codes and Standards Committee. ASCE established the Civil Engineering Certification Inc. to support specialty certification academies for various civil engineering specialties.

ASCE has created eight institutes to serve professionals working within specialized fields of civil engineering, including the Architectural Engineering Institute; the Coasts, Oceans, Ports and Rivers Institute; the Construction Institute; the Engineering Mechanics Institute; the Environmental and Water Resources Institute; the Geo-Institute; the Transportation and Development Institute; and the Structural Engineering Institute. ASCE's Technical Activities Committee comprises 10 divisions and councils committed to fields including aerospace engineering, cold regions engineering, computing in civil engineering, energy, forensics engineering, geomatics, lifeline earthquake engineering, disaster risk management, pipelines and sustainability.

Committee on Critical Infrastructure
In response to recent disasters, both natural and manmade, that have impacted our nation’s critical infrastructure, the ASCE Board of Direction has responded by appointing a Board-level Committee on Critical Infrastructure (CCI) and by focusing resources on preparedness, response, rebuilding and future critical infrastructure resilience needs. Established in January 2005, CCI provides vision, guidance and direction on activities related to homeland security, multi-hazard protection and resilience of critical infrastructure, including planning, design, preparedness, procurement, construction, operation and maintenance, and event response, mitigation and recovery. In addition to ensuring that ASCE maintains its proactive leadership role in these key national issues, CCI provides guidance to build coalitions that undertake activities in critical infrastructure, and assists in identifying sources of necessary resources related to critical infrastructure.

CCI has developed working definitions related to critical infrastructure as follows:

  • Critical infrastructure includes systems, facilities and assets so vital that if destroyed or incapacitated would disrupt the security, economy, health, safety, or welfare of the public. Critical infrastructure may cross political boundaries and may be built, natural, or virtual.
  • Safety denotes a status that is extensively free of adverse effects or is regarded as non-dangerous.
  • Security provides protection against attacks, sabotage, acts of violence, or disruption. Security concepts are constructed and used to reach the status of safety. Measures of security are effective when they prevent or mitigate expected and unexpected consequences.
  • Sensible security is the level of protection provided through design, construction and operation that mitigates adverse impacts to systems, facilities and assets in proportion to their value to society and their likelihood of being affected by natural or manmade events.
  • Multi-hazardsinclude significant events such as infrastructure deterioration, natural disasters, accidents and malevolent acts.
  • Resiliencerefers to the capability to prevent or protect against significant multi-hazard threats and incidents and to expeditiously recover and reconstitute critical services with minimum damage to public safety and health, the economy, and national security.

Additionally, ASCE is the former Secretariat of The Infrastructure Security Partnership (TISP), a public-private partnership focused on improving the resilience of the nation's critical infrastructure against the impacts of natural and manmade disasters (see pages 35-38 of the March-April issue of TME for detailed information on TISP). Since the role of TISP Secretariat was assumed in September 2008 by the Society of American Military Engineers, CCI has formed a new relationship with SAME in addition to being represented on the SAME Readiness and Homeland Security Committee. ASCE also established the Building Security Council Inc. to provide a multi-discipline security rating system for buildings and a certification program for building security professionals.

Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future
Last September’s National Preparedness Month and Sept. 11 remembrance ceremonies marked seven years of reflecting on lessons learned amidst the ongoing Global War on Terror, pursuing threats while incubating improved defenses for infrastructure vulnerabilities. In memorial services and documentaries we saw personal profiles in tragedy and courage, and were presented with clearer facts about the mechanics of structural collapse by aircraft collision. The role of civil engineering and ASCE to help understand lessons of Sept. 11, 2001, is obvious in the documentaries.

CCI Chair Dr. Paul Mlakar of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was featured with other prominent civil engineers in a recent Discovery Channel documentary titled “9/11: The Towers and the Pentagon.” Mlakar, who on behalf of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center lead the forensic investigation following the attack on the Pentagon, recounted that the areas of newly installed blast-resistant measures helped prevent complete collapse of the structure and saved many lives on the upper floors of the Pentagon. The dual core-shell design of the World Trade Center buildings also was noted to have allowed evacuations after the destructive attack—an unlikely feat for any other high-rise. The pointed conclusion: Buildings should not be designed to resist airplane attacks. We need to keep terrorists away from airplanes and airplanes away from buildings.

Herein are two key lessons that should shape our nation’s risk tolerances. Firstly, emphasis must be placed on mitigations and redundancies that are effective in response to both foreseen and unforeseen hazards. Additionally, it must be our assumption that both structural and social defensive measures pursuing a culture of resilience are a necessary priority for an enduring pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Further risk perceptions were shaped during an ASCE workshop in September 2005 in Japan, where infrastructure hazard mitigations were observed that could be viewed as excessive redundancy by our standards. Yet meanwhile, back in the United States, a lack of physical redundancy was at least in part responsible for much of the destruction being wrought upon New Orleans, La., by hurricane Katrina. Critical infrastructure redundancy, though an imperfect tool, creates a more resilient society and a clearer path to better solutions. How have the past seven years shaped your path to resilience?

The CCI Web page at ciasce.asce.org contains more about the committee’s activities and plans for the future.


Information compiled by Lt. Col. Robert E. Adamski, P.E., F.SAME, USA (Ret.), VP, Municipal Infrastructure Programs, Gannett Fleming Inc.; 516-671-8440, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..