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Assess Stability and Anti-Fragility of Dense Urban Terrains


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Info Systems, Human Systems 


OBJECTIVE: Develop a computational framework for assessing the robustness and resilience of Dense Urban Terrains (DUTs) to volatility and stress. 


DESCRIPTION: There is a critical DoD need to detect the stressors in urban environments, and to develop pre-conflict and conflict-preventative scenarios for military missions. Dense Urban Terrains (DUTs) present new challenges for military forces which may be called into operations. Traditional doctrine focuses on tactical operations, such as seizing territory, controlling key centers of gravity, or capture of HVTs, but has few tools for operations that focus on maintaining the stability of the environment, and ensuring that DUTs do not fall into a failed state status, also known as a ‘feral city’. Most of the academic work in this area consists of analytical techniques that depend heavily on human expertise, and are qualitative in nature. There is a gap in developing objectively measurable metrics of the factors that define the urban ecology as it pertains to its stability and ability to recover from stressors. A decade ago, in an influential article in the Naval War College Review, Norton defined a feral city as “a metropolis with a population of more than a million people, in a state the government of which has lost the ability to maintain the rule of law within the city’s boundaries yet remains a functioning actor in the greater international system” [1]. Understanding the state of a DUT and identifying the tipping points to a feral state is critical for a variety of today’s missions, such as Counter-Insurgency, Security Enforcement, Humanitarian Assistance, Peace Keeping, etc. Today’s DUTs consist of disparate populations, many of which have their own culture, history, laws, and governing bodies. Compounding this complexity is the sheer size of the megacity area, which in some cases can spread over hundreds, or even thousands of square miles (such as Tokyo: 3,300 mi2, Jakarta: 1,245 mi2, New York: 4,495 mi2, just to name a few), and can involve millions of people, interacting with organizations spread out all over the world. Developing a good understanding of the stability capacity of such environment is very challenging, not only because of its computational complexity, but also because the properties and characteristics that can emerge from these complex interactions can lead to ‘punctuated equilibria’ where the system can change rapidly from one steady regime into another [3]. The article ‘Megacities and the United States Army’ [2] provides an initial taxonomy of the key dynamics of instability and capacity for DUTs. The authors identify five key indicators that characterize the ‘Dynamics of Friction’, and two indicators for the ‘Dynamics of Capacity’. The five friction dynamics include: (1) Population Growth and Migration; (2) Separation, Gentrification and Income Inequality; (3) Environmental Vulnerability; (4) Hostile Actors; and (5) Resource Scarcity. The two Capacity Indicators are: (a) Resilience – the capacity to prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to public safety and health, the economy, and security”; and (b) Anti-Fragility – learn and grow from adversity, and improve its infrastructure and services to better respond to future stressors. Although this paper provides a good framework to understand megacities, it does not offer any automated way to assess the state of environment. The purpose of this effort is two-fold: The first task is to develop a refined conceptual ontology of indicators that go beyond aggregate level statistics and capture elements of key urban functions, such as transportation systems, critical infrastructure, sanitization, population, information, communication, governance, etc., as well as social networks and illicit networks. Existing work in this field is currently done under the ‘Smart Cities’ initiative, but the various activities are stove-piped to single urban services. This STTR effort will unify the indicators into a formal ontology for the whole urban terrain. The second task is to develop a computational framework that could characterize the state of the DUT based on those indicators, and is able to identify key transitioning points that can lead to instability. This task should identify the disruptors that cause cities to fall into decline, and offer a formulation of the resilience and anti-fragility characteristics as a function of indicators in the megacity ontology. Successful approaches will consider temporal characteristics of indicators, causal linkages between key entities, trends of indicators, and complex interdependencies between participating actors. The ability to discriminate indicators between internally generated factors, versus externally stimulated interventions is of particular interest to DARPA. In addition, proposals should examine the impact that certain stress situations (such as increase in unemployment, or influx of refugees, etc.) have on the ability of the megacity to maintain its stability. 


PHASE I: Conduct a comprehensive review of previous efforts in DUT modeling, assemble key findings from those efforts, and develop a structured ontology of indicators that characterize the ability of a megacity to maintain stability and provide civil services and governance to its population. Certain key dimensions for this ontology should include, but are not limited to: (a) Socio-Cultural characteristics; (b) Community Grievances and Radicalization; (c) Governance and Public services; (d) Extremist Violence; (e) Security and Counter-Terrorism Capacity; (f) Physical, and Critical Infrastructure; (g) Population Migration; (h) Connectivity and Flow of Information; (i) Merchant Supply and Demand; (j) Neighborhoods and ethnic populations. The ontology should be expressed in a representation that is conducive to downstream processing by analytical models. In addition, performers will develop prototypes of analytic models that compute these indicators from observed evidence – such as traffic reports, riots and protests, disruptions to key infrastructures, etc. – and propose quantitative metrics that assess the importance of each indicator to the stability situation. Phase I deliverables should include a final report documenting the prior efforts considered, the key findings, the megacity ontology, the algorithmic models, and the quantitative metrics. For this topic, DARPA will accept proposals for work and cost up to $225,000 for Phase I. The preferred structure is a $175,000, 12-month base period, and a $50,000, 4-month option period. Alternative structures may be accepted if sufficient rationale is provided. 


PHASE II: Implement a computational framework that forecasts the capacity of the megacity to cope with stress and volatility based on the indicator values and relationships in the ontology. Approaches that capture interdependent and adaptive systems are of particular interest to DARPA. For example, in short time scales, transportation services determine the vibrancy of neighborhoods, but in a longer time frame, jobs and housing reshape transportation networks. Deviations from those patterns, either in magnitude or frequency, could cause instability. As part of the effort, performers should identify at least two megacity use-cases to demonstrate the accuracy and performance characteristics of the stability framework. These megacity use cases should include enough historical data to support interesting and complex interactions in a megacity environment, and the performers should identify data sources that will be considered for testing and evaluating the stability framework. Phase II deliverables should include a prototype software implementation of the algorithm as well as a final report that documents the software, system design, and evaluation results. 


PHASE III: Commercial--Megacity Analysis, particularly as it pertains to the ability of the government to offer key civil services is at the heart of the ‘Smart Cities’ initiative: “This initiative ... [will] help local communities tackle key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services”. Technology development from this effort can benefit the ‘Smart City’ initiatives, and provide key differentiators for a functioning social environment that improves the lives of its citizens. Military--Understanding urban environments in critical to any pre-conflict/conflict-preventative scenario and the concept of understanding the nature of stability and emerging instabilities drives many military efforts, such as Counter-Insurgency, Security Enforcement, Humanitarian Assistance, Peace Keeping, etc. 



1: Richard J. Norton, "Feral Cities," Naval War College Review 66, no 4 (Autumn 2003): 98

2:  Megacities and the United States Army, Preparing for a Complex and Uncertain Future, Chief of Staff of the Army, Strategic Studies Group, June 2011

3:  Scheffer, et. al. "Anticipating Critical Transitions," Science, October, 2012



KEYWORDS: Urban Environment, Stability, Infrastructure, Megacity 


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