The Department of Civil Engineering is home to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering and several research groups with focuses that span beyond traditional civil engineering problems to encompass all challenges that benefit from the perspective or knowledge-base of systems engineering.

Students use modeling and simulation tools to study the performance of such complex systems and calculate the effect of changes at the component level on the performance of the system as a whole. Collaborations with the other civil engineering program areas are common, for example, in earthquake engineering with the Systems program.


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Affiliated Research Groups and Institutes


Join Systems

Graduate students interested in pursuing the Systems Program area should express this interest in their application and be interested in working with one of the Center for System Science and Engineering-affiliated faculty.

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Example of Recent Systems Research

Modeling the disaster response of the public health system
We can simulate the impact of a disaster through a combination of agent-based models of the human response to the event and structural models of its effect on the built environment. An example might be the evacuation of buildings during an earthquake. Agent-based modeling can be used to simulate the movement of many individual people, and the consequent behavior of the crowd, as they make their way out of the buildings and find transport to a medical facility. Structural models can provide information on the likelihood of building collapse, road closures, and damage to critical infrastructure such as hospitals. This data can be used to inform the evacuation model; indicating the likely level of injuries, access to medical facilities, and consequently the potential number of fatalities. In this way, the effect of interventions can be modeled and assessed.

Systems Relevant Associations



Systems Engineering

A system is any entity that is organized in a way that its components work together to produce a desired solution. By this definition, we could describe a suspension bridge, the electrical grid, or a hospital; each of which has been structured to solve a human problem. The suspension bridge provides the simplest example as each of the elements of the structure can be analyzed using standard engineering techniques, such as flexural analysis or finite element analysis, and its performance can be calculated and optimized. A hospital, on the other hand, is comprised of many systems within systems. From the personal level of a single patient’s healthcare team to the meta-level of the nation’s healthcare system, all of the parts need to work together if the system is to work effectively. Research into robustness, reliability, resilience, and sustainability of the infrastructure all require complex systems and systems-of-systems models to advance the state-of-the-art.



Systems Engineering

Our students use modeling and simulation tools including system dynamics models, which analyze the flow of energy, information or money throughout a system and simulate its performance over time by taking into account the inherent structure and feedback paths within it. Another powerful modeling tool is agent-based modeling, in which entire populations can be simulated by creating millions of software “agents” with characteristics of individual people and enabling them to make choices within a defined landscape. This technique has been used to model the spread of contagious diseases throughout the population and human behavior during the evacuation of buildings after an earthquake.


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