Assessing Criticality in Transportation Adaptation Planning

The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) developed this guide to help transportation agencies identify the most critical assets in their transportation systems. Identifying the critical assets can be a very effective way to help inform and narrow the scope of a transportation vulnerability assessment, making the assessment process much more manageable for an agency. The guide provides an overview of common challenges related to assessing asset criticality, options for defining criticality and identifying scope, and a process for applying criteria to rank assets' criticality.

This guide identifies considerations related to defining the concept of criticality, such as socioeconomic, use/operational, and health and safety importance of an asset - noting that broadly, asset criticality depends on physical characteristics and replacement value as well as its function within multiple systems (e.g. as an emergency evacuation, freight, or key commercial route, or as access to facilities like hospitals).

Before defining asset criticality, the guide notes the importance of defining the purpose, scope, and intended audience for a particular vulnerability study.Three common approaches to assessing criticality of assets are described, using examples from the DOT Gulf Coast study (Phase 2) and in FHWA-funded climate resilience pilot projects, with discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of each. Common approaches include:

  • Desk review: a quantitatively-focused method that emphasizes data, using a broad range of criteria to assess use and access across multiple modes and systems.
  • Stakeholder elicitation: an input-based method that emphasizes the knowledge of local experts in specific interest areas (e.g. public safety, commercial, or road maintenance).
  • Hybrid: a method that incorporates aspects of both desk review and stakeholder elicitation, typically beginning with desk review and using the results to structure feedback solicited from stakeholders and local experts.

The guide concludes with a list of criteria (including descriptions and justifications for using each) that were used in the Gulf Coast Phase 2 Study to assess criticality of assets in the Mobile, Alabama region.

The criticality guide is intended to help inform transportation agencies during the vulnerability assessment process, and is designed to go along with Module 3 ("Select and Characterize Assets") in FHWA's Virtual Framework for Vulnerability Assessment.


Publication Date: May 25, 2014

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