19 Nov 2014   |   Network update from ETH Zurich
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ETH launches Future Resilient Systems Programme in Singapore

Critical infrastructure systems are the backbone of society and ever growing in complexity and interconnectedness. A new research programme kicked off at the Singapore-ETH Centre strives to increase their robustness and resilience.

In countries like Singapore and Switzerland – small, well-organised, and prosperous – infrastructure systems that deliver energy supply, transportation, communication, banking, finance, emergency, and other services are the backbone of society. As such systems grow increasingly complex and interconnected, innovative approaches are needed to ensure that they are more robust and resilient. To address this challenge, the Singapore-ETH Centre for Global Environmental Sustainability launched a new project, Future Resilient Systems (FRS). The FRS programme will focus specifically on energy supply systems as a model that could be applied to other critical infrastructure systems.

Following a three-hour suspension in trading at the Singapore Exchange on 5 November due to a disruption in the power supply, there has been an increase in public scrutiny on more resilient infrastructure systems. The Future Resilient Systems programme is structured around engineered systems, the interaction between systems and the people who operate them. System disruptions and breakdowns are the result of an ‘event-exposure-strain-response-effect’ process. There is an increasing range of hazards that threaten and strain current critical infrastructure systems that extends beyond the natural, technological, economic, financial, social, or geopolitical and includes cyber and political threats.
New patterns of disruptions

Researchers in the FRS programme will study energy supply systems from a socio-technical perspective integrating engineered, operational, and user subsystems. Analyses of large-scale disruptions such as the NASA Columbia and Challenger explosions, toxic leaks at Bhopal, and radiation contamination at Fukushima have demonstrated that social sub-systems are often the weak link triggering the disruptions. It is this systemic behaviour of a socio-technical system – including decision-making behaviour – that results in the emergence of new patterns of disruptions. With the increasing uncertainty of triggering events and responses, as well as the increasing connectedness of systems in the ‘hyperconnected’ world of today, systems must now be made more fault-tolerant beyond pure resistance, enabling them to self-organise, recover, and learn, much like a biological system.

It is with this knowledge that the FRS aims to increase its understanding of the behaviour of complex systems, and to develop the capability to model and predict their behavioural patterns, in order to make critical infrastructure, in particular energy supply systems, more robust and resilient.

Funded by Singapore’s National Research Foundation, the FRS programme will draw upon the expertise of ETH Zurich researchers in collaboration with the Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore, Singapore Management University, and the Swiss-based Paul Scherrer Institute. The FRS programme will also work closely with Singaporean government agencies, including the National Security Coordination Secretariat, DSO National Laboratories, Energy Market Authority, and National Environment Agency.

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