Research After Sept. 11
Rensselaer professors have found unexpected new avenues for their research:
Ten Years After 9/11, Infrastructure Interdependence Still a Challenge in United States
Al Wallace was watching the live television news coverage from Manhattan when his phone rang. Only a few hours after the unthinkable terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a program manager from the National Science Foundation called to ask for Wallace’s help in assuring nothing like this could ever happen again.
Wallace, an expert in decision sciences and systems engineering, readily accepted. Within two weeks, he and his team were at Ground Zero. The rubble was still smoldering. Wallace collected as much information as possible without disrupting relief efforts.
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From 9/11 to Fukushima: The Science of Donated Stuff
Jose Holguín-Veras had a ritual. Prior to each and every monthly meeting with colleagues and former students on the 82nd floor of the World Trade Center Tower 1, he would stop and buy a hot mocha at a coffee shop on the ground level.
Even today, 10 years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, shook the world and destroyed the Twin Towers, the smell of hot mocha brings Holguín-Veras back to those meetings with state and city transportation officials. Among the ranks of these officials were a handful of his former students from Rensselaer. They would meet to discuss Holguín-Veras’ ongoing transportation research, new transportation initiatives, and other topics. On the day of the tragedy, most of his colleagues in Tower 1 escaped with their lives.
Beyond the personal impact of the terrorist attacks, Holguín-Veras was one of several Rensselaer professors tasked with studying and learning from the aftermath of the tragedy. His research projects started with air travel, but took an unexpected turn to a topic entirely new to academia: the logistics of donations.
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Engineering Improvisation: Insights From the Cleanup at Ground Zero
Following the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, engineers and construction workers faced the daunting task of dismantling the World Trade Center complex in order to make room for new construction. Researchers at Rensselaer are applying mathematical methods to describe how these decisions were made, and investigating how the decisions could inform cleanup efforts at future disasters.
The cleanup of Ground Zero required engineers and contractors to remove 1.6 million tons of material from a confined space and under dangerous conditions. They worked around the clock for nine months to complete the project, the scope and size of which were unmatched in modern history. Remarkably, the task was accomplished ahead of schedule, below budget, and without any serious accidents.
If we can pinpoint how and why these individuals performed so well under immense pressure, according to Rensselaer researcher David Mendonça, we can leverage that knowledge to help prepare for future disaster recovery activities, both through training and new technologies. Mendonça studies the cognitive processes that underlie human decision making, particularly in post-disaster environments.
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