Main Research

Key research areas of the Research Training Group

What are critical infrastructures (CI)?

The German Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) defines critical infrastructures, CI for short, as ‘organisations and facilities of great importance for the community, the failure or disruption of which would lead to supply bottlenecks with long-term effects, considerable interruptions to the national security or other dramatic consequences’. [1] The study of CI and, above all, the development of security strategies have continued to progress in recent years. There is still a lack of basic research, however. The research of our Research Training Group starts here and examines in particular urban technical systems.

CI in the city

In our research into urban technical systems we are also interested in the interdependencies of technology and (urban) societies in history and in the present. We examine the technical aspects of urban security and the political, social and cultural aspects associated with them. Our focus is on the systems of water and electricity supply, waste disposal, communication and transport that have become the nervous system of modern cities, the disruption of which can trigger dramatic crises. Urban infrastructures are not only threatened by external hazards (such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks and cyberattacks); the increasing complexity and interdependence of the systems themselves involve risks. It is the key assumption of the Research Training Group that critical infrastructures are greatly context-dependent with regard to both time and place, and at the same time are integrated into multiple spatial and temporal relationships. It is the objective of our research to understand and explain these complex systems in their spatial and temporal interrelationships and to analyse planning practices, the avoidance of functional disruptions and preparation for crises.

Our CI research is guided by three key questions:

  • Which infrastructures are identified as ‘critical’ and why?
  • What functional crises and threat scenarios can be ascertained?
  • How does society protect itself and its infrastructures?

These questions result in three focal points for research with their own key questions, each of which is related to a bridging concept or pair of concepts that can be applied in an interdisciplinary manner:

1. Construction of critical infrastructures

We wish to examine the construction of the criticality of technical infrastructures. We investigate which technical functional requirements and social and political attributions are relevant and to what extent these vary according to their historical – i.e. temporal – and spatial context.

2. Functional crises of critical infrastructures

We assume that the complex spatial and temporal arrangements can be particularly well recognised in the case of functional crises of the infrastructure. We therefore examine disruptions in urban infrastructures including the conditions for their vulnerability or resilience.

3. Strategies for the protection of critical infrastructures

Finally, we investigate how protection from, and preparedness for, functional crises of infrastructure are organised or could be organised (prevention and preparedness). What spatial and temporal factors do they take into account?

The Research Training Group is interdisciplinary and involves the cooperation of the following disciplines:

[1] From the BMI brochure ‘National strategies for the protection of critical infrastructures (CI strategy)',, (accessed on 5 Nov 2016)