Dearth of data is the greatest acknowledged obstacle to the deterioration modeling of the buried infrastructure assets. In the last two decades numerous models have been proposed with a greater emphasis on Markovian Deterioration Processes (MDP). The MDP requires that the condition of the deteriorating system be encoded as an ordinal condition rating, based on numerous distress indicators obtained possibly from direct and indirect observations, as well as from non-destructive tests. The encoding of distress indicators into condition rating is inherently imprecise and involves subjective judgment. This imprecision is not considered, let alone propagated in the traditional application of the MDP.

In this paper a new approach is presented to model the deterioration of buried infrastructure assets using a fuzzy rule-based, non-homogeneous Markov process. This deterioration model yields the ‘possibility’ of failure at every time step along the life of the asset. The use of fuzzy sets and fuzzy techniques help to incorporate the inherent imprecision and subjectivity of the data, as well as to propagate these attributes throughout the model, yielding more realistic results.

This paper is the first of two companion papers that describe a complete method of managing failure risk of large buried infrastructure assets. The second companion paper describes how the condition ratings along the life of the asset are converted to risk values and how effective decisions can be made about the renewal and/or scheduling the next inspection of the asset.

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