CIVIC-FA Track A: Leveraging existing fiber-optic cables to identify and manage urban environmental hazards

Project: Research project

Project Details


Growing cities face many major challenges including aging infrastructure, a lack of resilience against climate change, and inequities across human access to city services and amenities. Deteriorating infrastructure, coupled with more frequent, extreme weather, results in major urban events, such as chronic flooding, land subsidence, and pollution-related hazards. Real-time monitoring systems are lacking although many environmental issues are related to geological subsurface changes. Cities need cost-effective tools to predict, prevent, and mitigate hazards. This project aims to develop a real-time, high-resolution monitoring framework using pre-existing fiber-optic cable in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which has century-old or older water and sewer pipelines, and a documented history of landslides, sinkholes, and ground subsidence. Broader impacts include improved performance of city water and storm and/or wastewater systems. The project can also help cities identify and prioritize locations where conditions have most deteriorated, allowing more targeted replacement of water-related infrastructure, especially as the selected research area includes disadvantaged communities. The project also involves educational, workforce training, and public outreach components. Public outreach through the Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh will increase awareness about new sensor technology and civil infrastructure. Long-term community resilience will be improved, substantially benefitting the Pittsburgh community, and other communities where stormwater will be an increasingly important issue with global climate change. Pennsylvania State University and Carnegie Mellon University researchers, Pittsburgh city and infrastructure managers, telecommunication companies, local communities, and other stakeholders will conduct the project. Civic partners include Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, the City of Pittsburgh, and DQE Communications LLC. The CIVIC Innovation Challenge is a collaboration with Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, and the National Science Foundation. This project will test and demonstrate the use of pre-existing, unused, fiber-optic cables to monitor multiple urban-water infrastructures and geophysical hazards at low cost in real- to near real-time manner with high spatial and temporal resolution. Two areas were identified to test the viability of fiber-optic cables for use as urban-infrastructure environmental sensors. Selected areas are routes where other sensors can be located temporarily to collect data for calibration. The collected data combined with geo-environmental hazard information from civic partners (e.g., flooding reports, landslide proneness) will be used to validate and calibrate signals received from the system installation. Project outcomes include development of best practices for using fiber-optic technology to provide cost-effective, scalable, high-resolution, real-time sensing of water infrastructure and geophysical hazards in an urban environment. Sensor and infrastructure calibration procedures will be developed for future applications in other cities. This research and implementation, if successful, is transformative because the technology is repeatable and scalable and has the potential to be adopted widely by other cities.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.
Effective start/end date10/1/239/30/24


  • National Science Foundation: $937,211.00


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