Engineering Mechanics Institute Conference 2013

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On the Value of Information in Structural Safety

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Michael Faber
Technical University of Denmark

Katerina Konakli
Technical University of Denmark

Structural safety has been an issue of research within the structural engineering profession since more than sixty years. Starting with the pioneering work of Freudenthal, the research and methodological developments related to structural safety have by now reached a state which enables their practical application to significantly enhance decision making in the management of the safety of structures through all phases of their life-cycle.
Over the years, a range of specialized topics of research within the general context of structural safety have emerged. Examples hereof include optimal design, reassessment, repair and retrofit, experiment planning, inspection and maintenance planning, structural health monitoring, life-cycle optimization and code calibration. Within each of these general topics, application-specific research and developments have been undertaken for different types of structures, load and environmental conditions as well as for different materials.
The general issue of interest, however, remains the same, namely how decisions may be supported to ensure that structures are designed, manufactured, executed, operated, maintained, repaired, renewed and finally decommissioned at an optimal cost and with an appropriate level of safety.
In the present paper, on the basis of the Bayesian decision theory, and appreciating that a measure of structural safety is fundamentally a measure of available knowledge, the perspective is taken that any decision of relevance for the safety of structures in one way or another may be seen as a decision on whether additional information which may be acquired at a cost has a value in excess of its cost. With this perspective, it is in principle possible to formulate any type of decision optimization problem relating to structural safety by means of the concept of Value of Information.
Theoretical formulations which facilitate optimal decision making with respect to improving knowledge by means of additional information are provided in terms of the Value of Information for a broad range of typical decision problems relating to structural safety; principal examples including optimal design, assessment, inspection and maintenance planning as well as structural health monitoring are provided to illustrate their use.


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