Center for Infrastructure Modeling and Management



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The Center for Infrastructure Modeling and Management has been envisaged as an entity that will preserve, promote and extend the US EPA SWMM and EPANET software applications, and potentially other applications.  SWMM and EPANET are two foremost tools for assessment of watershed hydrology and pipe network hydraulics, respectively, and are perhaps unparalleled examples of technical community accomplishments conducted as a partnership of stakeholders from all avenues of professional practice.  Build over decades with participation from regulatory, academic, consulting,  owner/operator, vendors, and institutional support under the continuing leadership of the US EPA, these tools are used around the world as 'first choice' software applications in many, many situations.  They will remain as first choice tools for years to come.  A key question, therefore, is how to ensure these hallmarks of professional practice can be maintained, promoted, and developed going forward.  The expectations of users has evolved, needs have evolved, so the tools and their support mechanisms must evolve along with them. 

Accordingly, EPA determined that a sustainable center charged with the responsibility of EPANetoverseeing SWMM and EPANET, and potentially other applications, was an advisable next step in the furtherance of these tools.  This led to instantiation of a program and funding  that were defined and made public by the US EPA in 2012.  EPA at that time announced its intent to fund this program at a substantial level for a period of five years.  It is key that this Center be set up as a sustainable undertaking, one which will continue indefinitely, long after the initial 5 year funding provided by EPA has come to an end.  It is also key that this Center will be an open and welcoming hub for any and all communities which have an interest in either software application or in related matters.

The Center will evolve over time as community input is received, and will be shaped and grow as needs, opportunities, and interests dictate.  It is clear, however, that if the Center is to be sustainable there are a number of things that must occur.  One is that the communities associated with SWMM and/or EPANET are respected, with their needs and wishes foremost in mind as Center plans are made and operations are conducted.  The other is that in order to be sustainable, an income stream sufficient to enable such things as support, development, and training is developed.  This in turn demands that the Center balance the need for continued research with the need for a business oriented approach to planning and development.  From these basic considerations, a number of strategic program elements emerge.  Among other things, these include:
  • recognition that the core SWMM and EPANET engines are the result of input by many individuals and entities over decades, and are to be protected and preserved as an open and inclusive resource available to all,
  • explicit planning for a research model that is responsive to community needs and that taps into community resources as much as possible,
  • a business-like approach to development, which acknowledges the roles of regulators, vendors, users, owner/operators and other interested parties, and which explicitly seeks to communicate and work with them in mutually beneficial ways,
  • continued research and development, so that the features of the tools continue to evolve to meet emerging needs,
  • professional development practices, so that code and documentation are conducted according to modern
  • explicit links to existing stakeholder groups, including US EPA itself, SWMM and EPANET user communities, vendors who have invested in products taking advantage of these engines, and so on, enabling development in ways that are effective and mutually beneficial.

Four basic streams of activity have been defined to address these and other considerations.  Taken together, they provide a basis for decision making and prioritizing that we believe will provide the strongest possible foundation for the new Center.  

Outreach

One of the major preoccupations in moving the Center forward is in Outreach.  This web site is a simple starting point, but is only a placeholder since a wide range of outreach mechanisms will be implemented as an early effort in the program.  Working with various stakeholder groups, the Center will launch sites that include collaboration spaces, crowdsourcing capabilities, version controlled downloads of code, executables and test data, on line training, and other functions. 

Outreach will be a cornerstone in decision making, since current and evolving community needs will be a major factor in prioritizing research and development activity.  Polling the community, working directly with community representatives, and other mechanisms, will establish what those needs and priorities are.  This will help not only in guiding research to develop advances in capability, but in identifying nuts and bolts operational requirements.  Some of the things we will be addressing with the community are functions such as maintaining backward comparability with legacy versions of the tools, including data input and output formats and solver behaviors, so that either compatibility is maintained, or differences are known and fully documented.  Also critical in technical outreach will be development of agreed testing suites, to which end we will be soliciting and collecting full functioning models (input and output files) from community members to serve as model case studies for newer and experienced users to support both the QA/QC role and the training role for the center.

Key avenues of communication will include outbound messaging to keep stakeholders aware of developments (e.g. subscription based news feeds and/or emailing to subscribers) as well as inbound/interactive avenues of communication ( e.g. forums, blogs and so on) to enable gathering of comments, queries and input as well as to support interaction with the community.  An important  step in deciding on the suite of communications tools we will deploy, and how, will be to agree on ways of interacting with existing forums that are known to be highly effective and well established community hubs.  It is critical that the Center work with existing community groups where possible, partly out of respect for what already exists, but partly so that resources are not squandered duplicating systems that are already in place and that could meet the needs defined for the Center.  As such, an early step in development will be to communicate with such entities, and determine the extent to which there is a willingness to interact with the new Center.  Differences will be respected, but synergies will be sought and enthusiastically embraced.

Outreach can't happen too soon.  In the Contact page for this site, there are a couple of options for interested parties to make it known that they'd like to learn more, or get involved, or ask questions, or want to get in touch for other reasons.  We encourage any users to take advantage of this, so that we can begin a productive dialog as soon as possible.

Research

There are a  range of things that are being considered as a part of the Research elements of this program.  Some of these relate to needs that have been made known by the community already, in forums and other ways.  Included in this are development of a faster solver for SWMM and possibly EPANET, improved representation of BMPS, LID and Green Infrastructure elements of the watershed in SWMM, enhancements to contaminant transport algorithms in EPANET, and incorporation of improved calibration support.  Research priorities will be established as community input is assembled and as needs, opportunities, and resources are balanced.  As noted below, decision making mechanisms include formal and informal data gathering from stakeholders, technical appraisals involving both stakeholders and the core research team, and implementation either under the research arm of the program or possibly through community development and/or outsourcing.  Throughout, research priorities will target elements that will further the development of a sustainable Center - and this means targeting the needs of the community. 

Again, resources are precious, and we do not intend to expend energy in areas that are already well served or that are not of demonstrable benefit to the community, so Outreach will be fundamental to making decisions about research project implementation.  It is our commitment that no funded research projects will be instantiated unless they meet the litmus tests of need and feasibility as determined after consideration of community Outreach and technical/business review.

Code Development

It was recognized at the outset that while some research would certainly lead to code development, some would lead to algorithms or ideas that would then have to be realized in code.  It was also recognized that while some code arising from research (e.g. fast solvers) would be highly structured and effective, other elements might prove a concept, but not necessarily be in a format suited to deployment (e.g. student thesis outputs).  Finally, it was anticipated that crowd sourced code contributions, which will be a strong and welcome part of the program, may be varied in structure and sophistication even though they may be useful contributions.  Consequently, an ability to deliver professionally developed or vetted code was deemed necessary, and this has been built into this program.  Formal peer standard practices in QA/QC, version control, documentation and other factors will be implemented by members of the team with backgrounds and track records consistent with this need.  All code, whatever the source, will be vetted before distribution.

We will be working with the technical community to define and publish standards for code development as an early element of the program.  Even now, however, some aspects of the program can be identified.  One is in the release cycle.  We anticipate a dual tier release model, with a Long Term Support and a Snapshot version of the software made available.  The LTS version will have an extended life cycle, and enable adoption by vendors or other entities with the confidence that the version will be supported and stable over a known life span.  The Snapshot version will be a short term release deployment, available for users who want the latest updates in advance of the next LTS version.  The Snapshots will provide debugging and testing, and enable real world applications, leading to better information and better results in subsequent LTS releases.  This concept is not new, and there is ample evidence that it is a prudent approach to version control, so we believe this simple step will be well received by the community.

Another element of planning is in the nature of supporting information.  Documentation, test cases, use cases, and code specifications will all be published after discussion with the development community.  For some users, those typically applying the software but not developing it, this will provide high quality and robust installation and testing options.  For other users, those typically interested in developing enhancements to the tools, this will provide a thoroughly vetted set of tools that will promote new developments that are effective and in turn well documented.  Given the role of crowd sourcing and research contributions anticipated in this program, we believe both sets of users, and others, will benefit from this formal approach to documentation and ancillary content.

As a specifically targeted element of Outreach that relates to the above requirements, we will be inviting a body of experienced developers to contribute ideas and options for the technical processes and structures that will guide code development.  This will be done as a very early part of the outreach program, so that research and code related activity can proceed with confidence in this regard from day 1.

Administration

Over and above the typical program admin requirements associated with an undertaking of this type, there will be a need to implement a number of administrative functions directly enabling proper management of Center activity.  These include development of a licensing model, which will enable release of code in a way that is free and open, but which preserves identity for the future.  They also include functions such as training and support services, which are anticipated to be a strong element of Center operations.  And an important aspect will be in record keeping of Outreach contributions, so that a running list of ideas and accomplishments is maintained and ideas gleaned from the community are dealt with and not diffused or lost.  As a part of our communications infrastructure development, we are building mechanisms to address these and other functions.

An important element of the administrative and management elements of the program relates to purpose.  This program is not a typical research project; it includes research projects, but also business development elements that will lead to a sustainable Center.  We have identified a leadership team that is accomplished in both research administration, non-profit corporation administration, and water resources business operations; it is intended that, as a team, they have the scope to address the range of requirements that will arise during the conduct of this complex and challenging program.




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                      Watersheds Research Institute
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                      of Texas at Austin
US EPA

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