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Thursday
February 29th, 2024

downed power lineThis downed power line waits to be cleaned up after a storm earlier this summer. A group of Kansas entities is collaborating on an upcoming infrastructure resilience project to help communities after disasters occur. L&T file photo/Earl WattELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

The importance of rebuilding infrastructure after a natural disaster is extremely important, and there is currently a collaboration between multiple entities throughout Kansas looking to help with just that through a new project. 

“This is a multi-entity project, it began last June, and it's a collaboration between researchers at the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Wichita State University and is funded by the National Science Foundation. It's called ARISE, and ARISE is a major investment in Kansas by the U.S. National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR RII Track-1),” project researcher, Jason Bergtold, Professor at Kansas State University, said. “ARISE stands for 'Adaptive and Resilient Infrastructures driven by Social Equity.' The project will also create a pipeline of community leaders and decision-makers who will transform how a community invests in and manages its human and physical infrastructure. The project has three primary arms. The first arm is about research and looks at communities and infrastructure resilience, and the main interest there is how can we better build the resilience, or build the ability of communities across Kansas to handle and deal with natural disasters or other major hazards that might happen. This initiative seeks to advance the resilience of infrastructures that all Kansans depend on – such as water, energy, and transportation systems – by creating tools that ensure support for our most vulnerable communities in both rural and urban areas, and we also take into account other infrastructures like broadband and financial and healthcare. We're very interested in community welfare and vitality and making sure we reach all citizens of the state. We have a strong resilience focus, and we also have a strong social equity focus, which is all about making sure we're meeting all the needs of everyone in all communities, especially the more vulnerable populations.”

With this effort, Bergtold said there is a lot of work to be done. 

“For the research project, we have five partner communities, one of which is Liberal/Seward County, and the others are Dodge City/Ford County, Garden City/Finney County, and we're also working in Kansas City, which includes Wyandotte County and Johnson County,” Bergtold said. “Those community partners provide us a way to apply our research on the ground, which will help with the planning and educational parts, and that helps us make sure we're meeting the actual needs of the communities and working with them. One of the unique aspects of this project is how it's community-engaged research, so part of our project also involves finding community advocates who can help be liaisons with our research and other parts of the project. In addition, we have other elements like community studios, education and workforce development to help reach back into communities in the state. Right now, we're building those partnerships and starting our data collection – we're listening, trying to find out what are the issues/what's important, what is the community resilience like, and what it means to these communities. All this will help us build actual tools and information, and those partnerships are invaluable. And with the communities we're already partnering with, we're hoping the word will reach other communities throughout Kansas as well, so it's a very Kansas-focused project. The other aspects of this ... it's a very big grant, there's about 70 people involved across all the institutions, and we're also partnering with community colleges and other colleges throughout the state.”

Another goal is education, Bergtold said. 

“Along with the research, we also have an educational aspect – for example, I have an undergraduate internship program that will be starting next summer, and we'll be reaching out to community college students who plan on transferring to four-year universities, and we want to get more people involved in that research and those pathways,” Bergtold said. “We have a Kansas Data Science Corps, which is working to do data analytics with students through actual projects with communities and partners throughout Kansas, and that database can be used later on for teaching. We also have workforce development capacity building, we want to build research capacity in Kansas, but we also want to make sure we have community-building as well, so for us, that's a big deal, and that will also involve partnering with community colleges and other similar entities through service-learning projects and other similar work and those opportunities arise.”

Bergtold said there were many factors that went into these efforts.

“This is a Kansas NSF EPSCoR program, they fund large projects like this. It's very competitive, but we have these five-year projects, and I believe ours is about $24 million, and they fund that. We become competitive for those grants every five years or so, and when that came around, there was an open call for proposals, and we found out there were a couple proposals that were really well put together and very complementary, so those got combined into one project looking at infrastructure, which is still a really big topic,” Bergtold said. “At that time was when the big federal infrastructure legislation started opening up, so it was rather serendipitous, and we have a very strong group that works with infrastructure and natural disasters and community development/welfare. It's a long process getting these proposals together and funded, and then everything got started officially.”

With the project still being in the early stages, Bergtold said there are many takeaways he hopes will happen for everyone involved. 

“Right now, we're really just starting to dig into the communities but for me, it's very much about learning about the differences across the communities throughout the state. And I know there's already a lot of knowledge on that, but we want to learn about the specifics connecting emergency management and disaster response,” Bergtold said. “I know Liberal, Dodge City and Garden City have a lot of lenses focused on them because of the diversity in those areas, so for us, it's all about how we can better work with communities. We are a community-engaged research project, so we want the communities to be our partners in that process. How we do that is by building long-term relationships between the communities and our research/educational institutions in the state. I also hope we're able to provide, on both sides, stronger planning processes at all levels of government, and I want us to start looking deeper into developing a stronger social lens and better metrics. Part of this is also about building up the resilience of our infrastructure, which includes our roads, our power systems, our water, etc., to handle the potential impacts from disaster situations. We're seeing more extreme weather events, and it's definitely edging more toward WHEN it happens rather than IF it happens. Knowing that risk is higher will help better plan so we can better meet the needs of the citizens and help the recovery efforts be quicker. The focus groups are going on throughout the state, and we're keeping them really small, and in the future, we'll also be sending out surveys for people to participate in, but the survey stuff is still being finalized right now, and we would welcome as much participation as possible with those. Right now, however, we're really in the data collection phase and we're starting to learn about our partner communities and what else is going on in the state. We're excited to be part of this project, and we're still in the initial stages of this, so we're really looking forward to seeing what kind of data we can get, which will hopefully be very helpful in the future with helping communities plan for natural disaster situations that occur.”