The pan-European 'Design of an Interoperable European federated Simulation network for critical Infrastructures' (DIESIS) project will develop advanced computer modelling and simulations to find and test points of vulnerability in these infrastructures, and develop ways to address them.
Europe's critical infrastructures, such as transport systems, gas lines, electricity supplies and communications, are becoming increasingly interdependent.
This makes understanding the complex relationships between them important because a breakdown in one can spark severe disruptions across many others, potentially affecting millions of people.
These failures can also spread quickly across many different countries, as happened in November 2006 when 13 countries including France, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Morocco lost electricity supplies after a high-voltage power line in Germany was temporarily shut without proper preparations.
Similarly, in 2002 Cyclone Ilse caused 12 billion euros of damage after flooding disrupted electricity, water supplies and waste water systems across regions of Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.
Unravelling the complex interactions and interdependencies of cross-European infrastructures demands highly developed simulation tools. While simulators currently exist for certain infrastructures, none are capable of simulating the interaction of multiple interdependent systems. This severely limits how effectively nations can prepare for and respond to threats to their infrastructures ranging from natural disasters and IT failures to human error and acts of terrorism.
DIESIS aims to tackle this by developing advanced computer models and simulators that can test the robustness of these interdependent infrastructures, identifying weak spots where a failure in one could begin a catastrophic domino effect.
Professor Erol Gelenbe of Imperial College London's Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, one of the leaders of DIESIS, explains:
"Systems have weak spots and when they go down the costs and impact on people's lives are huge. These are highly complicated systems in their own right, so understanding the many ways in which they interrelate requires extremely complex modelling. Our aim is to come up with a simulation facility for constant study that can find weaknesses in systems and address them."
The project will also tackle smaller failures, which may go largely unnoticed but are nevertheless costly. Professor Gelenbe adds:
"If the internet system in Westminster is down for an hour because it has been attacked by hackers it won't make the headlines but it's very expensive for government and business. Those kinds of attacks happen very frequently. This project will help to make our entire critical infrastructure much more secure."
DIESIS is funded by 1.5 million euros over two years by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme. It will carry out the initial work that will pave the way for the establishment of a European Infrastructures Simulation and Analysis Centre.
The project sees Imperial College London working with large European public sector research organisations, including the Fraunhofer-Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems, Germany, Consorzio Campano di Ricerca per l'Informatica e l'Automazione Industriale, Italy, Ente per le Nuove Tecnologie, l'Energia e l'Ambiente, Italy, and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research.
More information on DIESIS is available at http://www.diesis-eu.org/