Workshop Report: “Vulnerability and Resilience of Critical Infrastructures in Cities”

Technische Universität Darmstadt, December 15, 2017


“Vulnerability” and “resilience” are terms and concepts that are used repeatedly in the context of the investigation and consideration of critical infrastructures. During the workshop, “Vulnerability and Resilience of Critical Infrastructures in Cities” on December 15, 2017, at Technische Universität Darmstadt, the participants took a critical look at both concepts from a scientific and from a practical perspective.

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Six different speakers from different disciplines and working areas presented their ideas concerning the concepts of “vulnerability” and “resilience” and their importance to the research on critical infrastructures in cities. In the subsequent sections the summaries of the talks are presented. In the workshop all the participants were asked to discuss the use of these concepts in research and practice: where are the differences and how could gaps be bridged? The discussion was initiated by doctoral candidates of the Research Training Group KRITIS: Ivonne Elsner, Alice Knauf and Nadja Schmitt gave short presentations for lightening the concepts of vulnerability and resilience from the perspective of their own research projects. Marcus Dombois contributed a summary of the overall discussion.

Opening Speech: Critical Infrastructures as an Achilles Heel of Urbanised Societies

Prof. Dr. Jochen Monstadt, Utrecht University, Speaker of the Research Training Group KRITIS

The debates around critical infrastructures (CI) are strongly dominated by engineering sciences. Often a special focus lies on IT security. However, CI are inextricably linked to a variety of social factors that should not be ignored. Considering the increasing urbanisation of the world, CI can be described as an Achilles heel of urbanised societies because the functioning of social relationships is increasingly tied to the operation of technical systems. Given the increasing interconnectedness of these systems, a comprehensive and multidisciplinary investigation of critical infrastructures is particularly important. The research concept of the Research Training Group KRITIS not only looks at the question of what criticality in fact means, but it also focuses on the concepts of “vulnerability” and “resilience” as well as “prevention” and “preparedness”. Furthermore, the consideration of temporal and spatial relationships is also important (more here), since numerous problems in this field of investigation have different development speeds and locations. To achieve a deeper understanding of the socio-technical functioning of critical infrastructures in cities, it is important to take all of this into account.

The Merge of Energy, Mobility and Data.
The Growing Need for Cooperative Governance for Future Infrastructures

Dr. Wijnand Veeneman, Delft University of Technology/Next Generation Infrastructures

Infrastructures have always shown interdependencies. With the coming of electric cars, a key element of a more sustainable future, the dependencies are becoming stronger. Also, the potential of data communication for mobility is increasing. With mobile phones and cars regularly uploading our locations, mobility is tuning in to the potential of that data. This means that in order to understand the developments around mobility, for policy and for science, we shall have to start bringing these fields together. To act upon that understanding, the fields will have to start working together more, finding governance models that break the traditional boundaries between these different fields.

Characterizing the Value of Infrastructure

Prof. Margot P.C. Weijnen, Delft University of Technology/Next Generation Infrastructures

The value of infrastructure for society and the economy is undisputed. Inadequate infrastructure provision frustrates social and economic development. Advanced economies with high quality infrastructure are disrupted if critical infrastructure systems malfunction. Quantifying the value of infrastructure systems and services, however, is a daunting task. Infrastructure is not a standard category in the international standard classification of industries and business activities, so it needs to be constructed. Obviously, infrastructure represents a lot more than physical assets: without trains, traffic management and a variety of ancillary services, a railway system will not be able to serve society. We therefore chose to delineate the infrastructure sector as the collection of facilities and activities needed to provide a set of basic services to society: flood protection and water management, energy, telecommunication, transport and water supply and waste (water) removal services.

For the Netherlands, the Central Bureau of Statistics thus established the value added of infrastructure at an average of 12% of the total value added of the Netherlands economy over the years 1995-2015, or 10% of the gross domestic product. This figure, however, does not incorporate any indirect economic effects of infrastructure, such as its effects on land use, nor does it address non-economic aspects of the value generated by infrastructure. The case of the power disruption in Amsterdam on 17 January 2017 serves as an illustration: besides substantial production losses, it caused temporary interruptions of social infrastructure services (schools, health and emergency services), with far-reaching implications, among others for the safety of citizens, and possibly even including the loss of two lives. Such social value aspects are not (or hardly) accounted for in the Value of Lost Load, and their monetisation is highly contentious. Moreover, many value aspects of infrastructure systems and services cannot be monetised, such as equity, fairness, social inclusivity, aesthetic value, and environmental and landscape quality. The challenge is therefore to ensure that the public debate on infrastructure is enriched by a more comprehensive notion of the value generated (or destroyed) by infrastructure, and that infrastructure is recognised not as a goal in itself, but as a means to a prosperous and resilient society.

Vulnerability of Critical Infrastructures – Approaches to Implementation

Susanne Krings and Eva Stock, Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK), Bonn

In the context of civil protection, vulnerability analyses are commonly carried out as part of more comprehensive risk management procedures. Assessing the vulnerability of critical infrastructures aims at determining if and how processes and components might be affected under the assumption of a specific scenario. BBK proposes a scenario-based approach involving guiding questions on the exposure of components, their susceptibility and the technical and organisational conditions to substitute them. Determining the vulnerability of critical infrastructures may help the operators to develop protective measures. However, from a civil protection perspective, the risk management efforts of critical infrastructure operators and emergency management authorities should go hand in hand.

For this reason, the research project “Critical Infrastructures – Resilience as a Minimum Supply Concept” (CIRMin) intends to advance methods for integrated risk management approaches (including vulnerability analysis as a central step). It aims to identify the information items to be exchanged between operators and authorities and the suitable communication format. Vulnerability-related information proved helpful in clarifying important questions, such as how many people would be affected, for how long and in which areas? The well-structured exchange of information is considered essential for integrating the risk management efforts of different stakeholders and improving joint emergency planning.

Smart Grids & Urban Resilience

Dr. Sadeeb Ottenburger, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

The COP 21 measures play a pivotal role for reaching both the climate and the sustainability development goals (SDGs) proclaimed by the UN. Different sectors have to go through rigorous transformation processes. Cities, considered as densely populated areas equipped with interlinked systems of critical infrastructure, are strongly affected by those transformations.The development and implementation of new technologies should therefore comply with the following demand: build resilient infrastructures (SDG 9) while making cities safe, resilient and sustainable (SDG 11).

The electricity system, considered as a high ranked critical infrastructure, is about to undergo a paradigmatic change: power generation is increasingly taking place in a decentralised manner and thus necessitates a smart power distribution and management system that – in contrast to the traditional power system – makes extensive use of ICT grids. The known volatility of regenerative energy resources and the use of more and more ICT components increase the vulnerability potential. If smart grid research and development remains solely focused on system resilience, without recognising the power system’s special responsibility as a high ranked critical infrastructure, urban resilience runs the risk of decreasing.

In order to maintain grid stability future energy management and distribution systems are based on automated real-time decision-making. Embedding concepts of criticality into such systems seems to be a promising way to deal with power system issues, e.g. power outage scenarios. Operationalizing global, local and initial criticality on both the network design level and on the level of energy distribution and management policies can contribute to a fair and urban resilient power distribution in phases of critical network conditions.

Critical Lens on Vulnerability and Resilience in Research and Practice

Marcus Dombois, M.Sc., Technische Universität Darmstadt, Research Training Group KRITIS

While critical infrastructures are perceived by both researchers and practitioners as highly complex socio-technical systems, discussing them is often not easy: the two parties mentioned have different backgrounds and therefore different perspectives. Whereas researchers attempt to formalize the systems on the basis of concepts in order to draw conclusions from the general to the specific case, practitioners often have a rule-based approach that tries to identify generalities on the basis of individual effects. A question arising from this is therefore the extent to which the scientific concepts describing the vulnerability and resilience of infrastructure systems differ and what benefits they have or could have for practical application.

Provocatively speaking, it could for example be claimed that empirical evidence suggests that the vulnerability and resilience of urban energy systems are both increasing at the same time in the course of Smart Energy developments – just depending on the scale one is looking at. Therefore, measures to increase the resilience on one scale (e.g. on the level of one energy stakeholder) may actually increase the overall system’s vulnerability. Also, looking at a political level for instance, history exemplifies numerous times and not only in dictatorships or authoritarian regimes but also in democratic systems that political conditions have a high impact on the actions that are implemented, for example by cities when they deal with hazards and vulnerabilities. Therefore, when working with the aforementioned concepts one has to keep in mind that social implications such as the political content are inevitably inscribed within them. Furthermore, the concepts have to be “translated”, or in other words have to be decoded, into practical measures in order to be of help for empirical work with infrastructure operators or other actors.

The Workshop was organised by doctoral candidates of the Research Training Group KRITIS – Ivonne Elsner, Andreas Huck, Alice Knauf and Nadja Schmitt – and the KRITIS office.