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DOD Selects NPS to Advance Research in Environmental Resilience and Surprise

DOD Selects NPS to Advance Research in Environmental Resilience and Surprise

Through funding awarded by the DOD’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, the Naval Postgraduate School will begin research focused on developing new theory and tools to help us understand and better prepare for future climate events that challenge military installation operations.

The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) has awarded the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) funding to begin a new research project, titled “Advancing Resilience Theory and Tools to Combat Environmental Surprise,” focused on developing new theory and tools to better understand and prepare for future climate events that present challenges to military installation operations.

SERDP is the DOD’s environmental science and technology program coordinated in partnership with the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, with participation by numerous other federal and non-federal organizations. SERDP invests resources across a broad spectrum of applied research and development.

“Despite best practices for robust design, military infrastructure remains vulnerable to natural disasters, extreme weather and hybrid attacks,” said Dr. David Alderson, Director of NPS’ Center for Infrastructure Defense and Principal Investigator for the new SERDP-funded project. “The acute impacts of natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, fires and even cold weather pose a constant threat to mission readiness. The events in Texas over the last week demonstrate how something as simple as extended cold can wreak havoc on critical infrastructure systems.”

SERDP is allocating $2.4 million over the next four years to NPS to find solutions to decrease environmental impact, such as natural disasters and climate change on the battlefront. The interdisciplinary project will involve several researchers across the NPS campus, as well as collaborators at Arizona State University.

“This project is important because there is growing recognition within the DOD for the potential of climate-change related events to affect operations, readiness and missions,” noted Alderson. “To date, there is a lack of understanding and tools for combating these surprise events.”

The research is organized in three integrated thrusts focused on the development of theory and frameworks for measuring resilience, advances in novel tools for simulating surprise, and experiential learning with wargaming and case studies.

According to Alderson, “Guidance for managing military infrastructure currently follows principles of reliability and risk, but these are based on knowledge of past events. They are not suited to adapt to dramatic change or future surprising events. For this reason, there is a need for new theory that links sensing, anticipating, adapting and learning processes with established theories of surprise from military history and the intelligence community.”

Another key element of the overall project is to develop tools for education and training that provide a platform for investigating how military practitioners respond to surprising climate stressors. A key element of the proposed work is a sandbox-style virtual world called “Dystopia”—initially created at the NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS)-- suitable for supporting novel training and wargaming capacities to assess and improve expertise in responding to surprise events.

Alderson noted that this project will provide a platform within DOD education to support NPS students in their master’s theses researching resilience and surprise that should lead to additional direct impact on DOD operations as they graduate and re-enter their respective services. 

“This research addresses the explicitly-stated need to improve the environmental performance of DOD, support the long-term sustainability of DOD’s installations and ranges, and significantly reduce current and future environmental liabilities,” said Alderson.

Alderson believes development of the Dystopia tool will also leverage longstanding work at NPS to train experts in homeland security and reach broader classroom and operational settings. 

“The broader DOD community will also benefit as the project team will target experiential learning at military officers and government employees,” he noted. “Finally, advances in Dystopia will be made shareable and extensible to enable open-source methods for studying resilience in non-military settings.”

Together, this project aims to advance a deeper understanding of resilience while building the tools and methods to assess and improve resilience across military installations.


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