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Research Questions

  1. How does the transportation community define and measure resilience?
  2. How is resilience being incorporated into transportation decisionmaking?
  3. How do transportation planners consider equity?
  4. How do transportation planners consider the nontransportation benefits of resilience?
  5. Who benefits from transportation infrastructure?
  6. What alternative options or strategies should be considered when planning to increase the resilience of the entire transportation system?

A resilient transportation system is one in which critical assets are not exposed to hazards or, if they are, there is sufficient capacity to mitigate the impacts of a shock. Current legislation requires resilience to be considered but does not provide guidance for how to incorporate it into the transportation planning process. Therefore, in this report, RAND researchers outline a conceptual framework to incorporate resilience into transportation planning. Researchers suggest that planners consider a framing of resilience that focuses on four elements: absorptive capacity, restorative capacity, equitable access, and adaptive capacity (AREA). Absorptive capacity is the ability of the system to absorb shocks and stresses and maintain normal functioning, restorative capacity is the ability to recover quickly following a shock or stress and return to normal, equitable access is the ability to provide opportunity for access across the entire community during both a shock or stress and normal functioning, and adaptive capacity is the ability to change in response to shocks and stresses to maintain normal functioning.

The AREA approach provides a means to discover alternative options or strategies that should be considered when planning to increase the resilience of the entire transportation system through modifications and additions to those assets. The approach focuses on such metrics as exposure, availability of alternative routes and mode choices, community planning efforts, transportation system user rates, and system efficiency. The value of incorporating resilience assessments into decisionmaking is that more–cost-effective approaches might be revealed by taking a holistic approach to infrastructure.

Key Findings

There is neither a conclusive definition of resilience nor a widely accepted practice for achieving it

  • Although current legislation requires planners to consider resilience, it does not provide guidance for how to incorporate resilience into the planning process.

Transportation infrastructure and services create benefits beyond the transportation system

  • Transportation affects other social, economic, and environmental systems. For example, targeted improvements in transportation could contribute to safe movement and access to medical centers, educational institutions, and jobs, or to ecosystems that do not experience hazards.
  • The AREA approach explores metrics that address exposure, availability of alternative routes and mode choices, community planning efforts, transportation system user rates, and system efficiency.

Stakeholder interviews yielded many suggestions for improving the resilience of the system

  • Interviewees noted that a culture shift toward promoting a national understanding of transportation resilience is necessary.


  • Broaden the asset data to include human and equipment assets, use the logic model to guide expansions, and identify the criticality of these new assets.
  • Expand hazard data to consider a wider array of hazards and determine whether they are systemwide or if they influence only a subset of assets.
  • Use the indicators we identified to assess the resilience of the system in a way that acknowledges the interaction of the criticality and exposure of the assets.
  • Engage stakeholders and decisionmakers to help weigh the trade-offs that come with prioritizing options.
  • Use an established critique, such as a multicriteria decision analysis, economic analysis, benefit-cost analysis, or life cycle cost analysis, to facilitate prioritization.
  • Consider the benefits of investment in times of both normalcy and disruption.
  • Expand the objectives and scope of the FWHA vulnerability assessment framework to include shocks and stresses that are not directly tied to climate change, including cyberattacks, when implementing the framework.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Resilience in a Transportation Context

  • Chapter Three

    Conceptual Framework

  • Chapter Four

    Measuring Resilience

  • Chapter Five

    Considerations for MPOs and State DOTs

  • Appendix A

    Stakeholder Interviews

  • Appendix B

    Literature Review on Resilience

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the Transportation Research Board and conducted by the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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