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CRISP 2.0 Type 2: Collaborative Research: Water and Health Infrastructure Resilience and Learning (WHIRL)


Drinking water and public health systems are some of the most critical infrastructures that support human well-being. This Critical Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Systems and Processes (CRISP) project will provide new insights about how these systems interact with each other and adapt to challenges. The project will also investigate how the public learns about and engages with public health and water systems. The focus will be to assess how a range of disruptions, from routine challenges to large-scale disasters, alter public interactions with these systems. Study data will include interviews with subject matter experts from water utilities and public health agencies. It will also include a national survey to understand how well these US infrastructures can adapt to future challenges. Information gained from project partners and the national survey will be used to identify factors and develop models that can be used to enhance resilience of both systems. This project will advance knowledge that can be applied to promote access to cleaner, safer drinking water for all communities, including socially and economically disadvantaged ones. It will serve the national interest by identifying practices that can be used to improve management for, and communication methods between, water and public health systems, thereby improving the health, prosperity and welfare of communities. Collaborations with the Water Research Foundation (WRF), National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), American Indian Mothers, Inc. and others, will assist in translating research results to new practices and policies that reduce the burden of disease in vulnerable populations. The project will also provide training to students, including underrepresented minorities, in STEM.<br/><br/>The research will make theoretical contributions in two primary areas. First, it will build upon organizational learning theory as it is manifest from risks, hazard and disruptions in water events and ground this within systems theory and organizational sense-making. Outcomes include new norms, procedures, structures, capacity and technology designed to promote higher reliability and resilience. This will include describing the ways risk, hazards and failures impact public policy agendas and policy learning outcomes. Second, this research will contribute to theoretical work on resilience in critical infrastructure by connecting the social, managerial, and technical frameworks as manifest around water events. Emerging risks with unknown impact include shrinking cities, decaying infrastructure and persistent under-funding. Transformative aspects of the project include creating theoretical models that describe how the relationship of communities to these coupled interdependent systems shapes organizational learning from disruptions, and in turn enacting changes that enhance resilience.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Shawn Mcelmurry; Matthew Seeger
Wayne State University
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