EU Science Hub

Resilience and Interdependence of Critical Infrastructures

Eu flag and building Improved, standardised tools for hazard risk and resilience assessment
©European Union, 1995-2017
Apr 20 2017

In modern economies, critical infrastructures provide many essential goods and services (electrical power, telecommunications, water, etc.). But because they are highly integrated, natural disasters can have a cascading effect that knocks out multiple infrastructures at the same time. This can be countered by using improved, standardised tools for hazard and risk assessment, and applying them systematically to whole classes of critical infrastructures.

A two-day workshop was organized by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC) in Brussels on 16-17 March 2017. This best practice sharing conference was one of the deliverables of the Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre (DRMKC), launched by the European Commission in 2015 to help EU Member States be better prepared for natural disasters, which have caused over 80,000 deaths and €100 billion in economic losses in the EU since 2002.  It emphasizes the need to improve the knowledge base on disaster risks and share knowledge, best practice and information amongst numerous stakeholders and partners involved.

The workshop brought together policy makers, regulators, representatives of critical infrastructure operators and insurance companies, lead researchers for 13 EU funded projects under FP7 and H2020, and relevant Commission services.

The focus was on research results availability and gap analyses in reducing the impact of extreme weather and other natural hazards such as earthquakes, on a range of critical infrastructures, from gas pipelines to motorway networks.

“We have seen excellent research results. What we need now is better integration of tools and methods in order to put them in practice more widely”, said Artur Pinto, Head of Unit, Safety and Security of Buildings at JRC. “I am encouraged to see the willingness of the research community to work on harmonizing their methodologies”.

Prof. Alan O’Connor, Trinity College Dublin, who led RAIN project, praised the role DRMKC and JRC played in acting as an umbrella organization for all related projects, and facilitating synergies between them.

He also advocated a parallel, bottom-up approach which could be encouraged by the involvement of investment banks. “When the banks will be talking to member states about funding new sustainable infrastructure, resistant to climate change, they will be able to use our work to inform their decisions”.

This sentiment was echoed by the participants. Domenico Giardini, Professor at ETH Zürich and the head of Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research – Supply of Electricity, who led the FP7 STREST project, said that “a single infrastructure should not be put in a position that they have to shop around to find a suitable methodology to assess their own hazards, vulnerability and risk”.

Instead, he suggested, “we should harmonise the existing methodologies to give people an integrated, authoritative procedure to follow, like a good ‘recipe book’”.

Another important aspect of the discussions was the interdependencies between different types of critical infrastructures, often exposed to the so-called cascade effects, where one hazard triggers another.

Prof. Dina D’Ayala, University College London, also stressed the importance of working on the resilience of critical infrastructure across national borders. “Infrastructure does not pertain to only one country. Our work was based on networks, spanning the continent, from Norway to Sicily. The reliability of such networks can only be guaranteed by their management and regulation at the European level”.

“We work a lot on interfaces between different resilience models developed by European scientific community”, said Dr Georgios Giannopoulos, of JRC. He added: “Ultimately we would like to develop a one-stop-shop for resilience modelling of critical infrastructures, based on the results from various projects. This is the aim of JRC’s ongoing GRRASP (Geospatial Risk and Resilience Assessment Platform) project, which will provide a technical framework for such collaboration”.

/jrc/en/file/171933Echoes from the Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre workshop

The STREST project

The Joint Research Centre was partner in the research consortium of the STREST project – ‘Harmonised approach to stress tests for critical infrastructure against natural hazards’ – funded by the EU's 7th Research Framework Programme, which designed a new stress test framework for non-nuclear critical infrastructure.

This involved developing innovative models for hazard, risk and resilience assessment associated with extreme events (earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, etc.), which are applied to 6 critical infrastructures in different European countries:

  • petrochemical plant (Italy),
  • hydropower dam (Switzerland),
  • hydrocarbon pipelines (Turkey),
  • gas storage and distribution network (Netherlands),
  • harbour (Greece),
  • industrial district (Italy).

The STREST project produced fundamental knowledge beyond the state-of-the-art in hazard, vulnerability, risk and resilience assessment of non-nuclear critical infrastructures and infrastructure systems for extreme natural events.

The main achievements, some case-dependent, are:

  • a probabilistic multi-hazard risk assessment framework including cascade scenarios,
  • a standardised treatment of uncertainties and mechanics of hazard assessment,
  • a consistent catalogue of classes of critical infrastructures including intensity measures, engineering demand parameters and performance indicators,
  • models concerning fragility, vulnerability and consequence assessment,
  • an integrated risk assessment of geographically distributed infrastructures taking into account interdependencies and cascading effects,
  • probability-based models for structural and systemic performance to determine losses,
  • an engineering risk-based multi-level stress test methodology, with workflow and tools.

STREST demonstrated that interdependencies and cascading failures may have an important impact on public safety and higher-level societal functions, beyond the critical infrastructure itself.

Several aspects of societal resilience, such as its definition, models for probabilistic assessment, and accepted levels of loss, downtime and recovery costs remain as yet in the sphere of research.

The methodology developed by STREST improves evaluations of the risk exposure of critical infrastructure to natural hazards. The exploratory applications of the stress test methodology to the 6 infrastructures across Europe illustrated how the developed tools were able to identify extremes and disaggregate (i.e. separate out) risks to specific hazard scenarios and component failures.

Furthermore, the method was built to support decision-making about cost-effective mitigation measures.

Next steps

It was widely acknowledged that research results were excellent and of great relevance. Nevertheless work on reducing the uncertainty elements and increasing the validity of the research results, the harmonization of methodologies aiming at ensuring the resilience of critical, as well as other infrastructures, would need to continue.

It was commonly agreed on the need of extending cross disciplinary research as well as infrastructure resilience to combination of several hazards, like for example, intensification of rain due to climate change, which may lead to increased risk of landslides, and which eventually could be triggered by an earthquake.

Further efforts need to focus on tackling remaining identified knowledge gaps as well as transferring of this knowledge to end users and local regional authorities, thus eventually improving resilience against natural, technological and man-made disasters, by performing research, developing tools and guidelines.

The JRC together with NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology, the USA Department of Commerce) and the Colorado State University will organize the 2nd International Workshop on Modelling of Physical, Economic and Social Systems for Resilience Assessment on 14-16 December 2017, in Brussels. It will bring together the most up-to-date knowledge in the field of resilience across different disciplines aiming to identify the constituents for measuring the resilience at various scales (local, regional, and national, international) and establishment of necessary indicators for a coherent resilience assessment framework for communities and societies.