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Published: 26 September 2017  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
EnvironmentNatural disasters
Research policySeventh Framework Programme
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Belgium  |  Canada  |  Cyprus  |  France  |  Germany  |  Italy  |  Netherlands  |  Poland  |  Switzerland
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Encouraging cooperation to protect essential infrastructure

EU-funded researchers have provided new decision support tools, training systems and online resources to allow decision-makers to assess the resilience of critical infrastructure - such as electricity and telecommunication - when disaster strikes. The project is a milestone in the development of a proposed pan-European analysis centre.

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By understanding the interdependence between rail, telecommunications and electricity, and sharing this information with different utilities, the EU-funded CIPRNet project has helped to show how cooperation across sectors can help keep infrastructure safe and operational during a crisis.

The project’s results have also brought one step closer the foundation of an organisation to assess the safety of the EU’s infrastructure –The European Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Centre (EISAC). Envisaged to be operational within the next decade, this centre will ensure that project results on infrastructure safety are fully implemented.

Network of excellence

“In order to move in the direction of EISAC, we began by creating a network of excellence among critical infrastructure stakeholders,” explains project coordinator Erich Rome of the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems in Germany. “Our first challenge was to convince practitioners from different fields that this could deliver real added value and provide end users with implementable tools.”

Through integrating resources and identifying the common needs of infrastructure operators, new capabilities have been developed. These include decision-support systems to help operators of critical infrastructure assess the risk to infrastructure from national disasters such as extreme weather and earthquakes.

“This system was successfully tested by three utilities in the Italian capital as well as the national civil protection agency,” says Rome. “It was in operation from 2015 to 2016, and there have since been a lot of inquiries from within Italy, as well as from abroad.”

The key to the success of this demonstration, says Rome, was that the three utilities were willing to provide one research partner with real, confidential infrastructure data. “This is very rare for a research project like this,” he points out. “Usually we would have to work with open data and construct artificial networks between the utilities.”

Rome believes that the project succeeded in making the case for these utilities to share and benefit from each other’s knowledge. “It means that they will be more resilient and better able to coordinate their activities should a disaster hit the city,” he says.

Spreading knowledge

The second key success has been the development of critical infrastructure disaster training. “The drawback of simulations to date has been that we are essentially predicting the future with yesterday’s data,” says Rome. “So what we wanted to do was use this data to develop training programmes.”

From existing data, CIPRNet researchers created a number of cross-border disaster scenarios in an area near Germany and Netherlands, such as a rail derailment and flooding of the river Rhine. “This training is directed at civil protection agencies,” explains Rome. “Every day first responders have to deal with infrastructures in several ways.”

For example, existing infrastructure, such as water and road networks, is vital to effective emergency response, and can itself be directly affected by disaster – a flooded electricity substation, for example. Finally, an emergency – such as a fire at a power station – can originate from civil infrastructure.

“Many civil protection agencies are perhaps unaware of the various roles that infrastructure plays in disaster, so this training is designed to provide a better understanding across a range of complex scenarios,” says Rome. His team is currently in negotiations with the German crisis management academy to organise an additional training event. If successful, this could lead to the training application being run on a more regular basis.

“We have also developed a website – called CIPedia – which is filled with definitions and terms,” says Rome. “This website was launched three years ago, and recently hit 600 000 views. Today there are around 4 000 definitions from 100 nations available, and this resource is constantly growing.”

Project details

  • Project acronym: CIPRNet
  • Participants: Germany (Coordinator), Belgium, Cyprus, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Canada, Switzerland
  • Project N°: 312450
  • Total costs: € 7 663 168
  • EU contribution: € 6 569 842
  • Duration: March 2013 to February 2017

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