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Risk management in an increasingly complex world

Matti Välimäki | 4.6.2015

What would happen if there were a major power failure in Lapland? Together with its partners, VTT helps the authorities to prepare for situations like this. Simulations and stress tests are convenient tools in a world in which everything is connected.

​VTT’s extensive experience in the research and development of security spans decades, with special expertise in areas such as risk and safety management, reliability management of technical systems and support in decision-making.  

Research focus and objectives are aligned according to needs. The world is changing at an increasing pace, and technical systems are increasingly complex and inter-dependent. 

According to Team Leader Liisa Poussa, Risk Management team, and Research Professor Veikko Rouhiainen, Safety and Security research, risk management in an increasingly complex world becomes all the more challenging.

– We have more versatile methods of data collection, more advanced analytics and different real-time safety indicators at our disposal. This helps create a dynamic snapshot of the current situation. On the other hand, it is more challenging to identify relevant data and use it in decision-making at different levels of the organisation, Poussa says.

– It is essential to refine data into information so that decision-makers can interpret it quickly and easily. There should be more emphasis on the visualisation of information, and its uncertainties.

When resources are increasingly limited, safety and security operations cannot escape input-output considerations.

– An added challenge in public service is the fact that the payers and beneficiaries are often not the same. Each party should adopt a systemic approach and think about the big picture, using multi-criteria assessment of effects and considering the points of view of different parties, Poussa says.

Simulations and stress tests provide new development opportunities

In particular, Poussa and Rouhiainen are advocates of simulations and stress tests. Simulations are models that allow the illustration and virtualisation of how processes and people, or machines and buildings, operate under different conditions. 

– It is much cheaper, not to mention quicker, to study this with simulations instead of real-life environments, Veikko Rouhiainen points out.

Stress tests reveal how well the research subject is prepared for exceptional situations and can manage them. While the terminology and testing originates in the banking world, stress tests are today performed in other facilities, such as nuclear power plants, and more recently, mines.

Opportunities for advancements and enhancements

Like other operators, authorities aim to prioritise and focus their activities more.

– There is a lot of room for development in self-monitoring. Critical functions in society should be subjected to more stress testing, Rouhiainen says.

On the other hand, many central functions in society are provided by businesses. Authorities lack the time or resources to monitor their operations, which makes the companies’ self-monitoring increasingly important.

– Companies in general – regardless of the industry – should be better prepared for exceptional situations and external risks. They should identify their weaknesses, which can provide completely new kinds of opportunities to advance and enhance their operations. This point of view may become even more important in the future, Rouhiainen speculates.

 He points out that optimisation of individual details is not that important. What counts is optimisation at a higher-level.

– We must also consider what is deemed acceptable in society. For example, when considering security, we must remember that protection of the individual places practical restrictions on data collection. 

Systems must be able to communicate with each other

VTT participates in many security and safety projects. Among them is the EU-financed project CRISMA (Modelling crisis management for improved action and preparedness) that aims to improve the reliability of societal functions and, for example, to optimise response operations in the event of civil crisis situations or catastrophes. The project creates tools for modelling crisis management and simulating different scenarios.

The CRISMA project is coordinated by VTT. According to project coordinator Anna-Mari Heikkilä, one of the CRISMA pilot studies focuses on the effects of a winter storm and a large-scale power outage in Lapland.

– Various parties, such as municipalities, infrastructure maintenance operators, emergency services and social and health care professionals have their own actions plans and models for situations such as this. The problem is that their systems and data are not connected, which makes it more difficult to see the big picture. As a result, the situation remains quite abstract. 

The objective of CRISMA is to create an environment in which relevant data can be combined to simulate the situation. By doing so, we can see the effect of each individual measure, and how different measures impact each other, in advance. 

– With the tool, the parties can identify the best methods and practice cooperation so that the resources of all parties can be leveraged fully. 

Cost-efficiency is a consideration

Basic data in CRISMA’s Lapland pilot includes information on the building stock of different areas, the ability of buildings to withstand cold climate and the age structure of the population. It also includes data such as weather models provided by the Finnish Meteorological Institute and information about the places to be evacuated. 

Other types of data can be entered, such as cost information, for example on the cost of bus transportation from Kemi to Tornio, or the costs of damage caused to buildings by ice.

This data helps allocate resources where required and make the best decisions, also in terms of cost-efficiency.

CRISMA visualises the central data to support decision making.

Visualisation provides a quick overall picture of the situation to decision-makers. They also need visual information to present to others, Heikkilä points out.

VTT is also keeping an eye on other CRISMA applications. In Italy, simulations help the authorities to prepare for an earthquake, while those in France are preparing for damage caused by coastal submersion. Authorities in Israel are simulating accidental spillage at a large city port, and those in Germany are simulating the operation of responder organisations in mass accidents.

Automated border control

Border control is one of the most important security considerations for any nation. In FastPass project, VTT and its partners are working together to develop technologies and solutions for automated border control for passengers at European borders.

According to Senior Scientist Sirra Toivonen, the EU-funded project aims to make border crossing faster for travellers, while improving the reliability and cost-efficiency of control.

– The project uses devices that recognise the passenger’s face and fingerprints. For example, they automatically capture a picture of the passenger’s face and compare it to the passport photo and the information in the chip of the electronic passport.

In the project, VTT has developed the management of user and security requirements, contributing to areas such as system requirement specification, user experience analysis and risk analysis. The results of the project will be collected and used as best practices.

– Automated border control is becoming more common, at airports in particular, increasing the need to harmonise the systems. 

The new technology developed in the FastPass project is tested by the Vienna Airport, Romanian Border Control and the Port of Mykonos in Greece.

Biometrics provide ease of use

One of VTT’s partners in FastPass is a Finnish company called Deltabit, an expert in fingerprint-based identification and monitoring systems. 

According to Managing Director Jukka Hosio, Deltabit’s responsibility in the FastPass project is to find a practical way of introducing fingerprint-based identification at airports, ports and border control.

– Among other things, we are looking into the process impact of multi-finger identification and the use of 3D images instead of 2D images.

Jukka Hosio says that cooperation in the project with VTT is also a great learning opportunity for Deltabit.

– We get to see the entire ecosystem and what the requirements are like in different countries and facilities.

What does he think the new technology can offer in the future?

– What we primarily offer is ease-of-use and simplicity. On the other hand, security can also be enhanced by the introduction of a new identification method alongside the old ones.

– In all likelihood, today’s security practices will appear quite silly in the future.

What I mean is this: we have to carry keys, ID cards and passports with us and remember user IDs and passwords, while all the data required for biometric identification is always with us, Jukka Hosio says.

VTT’s main competence in this area

  • Safety risk 
  • Mapping and analysis
  • Safety and security management and preparedness
  • Risk illustration and simulation
  • Management of reliability in technical systems
  • Data and cyber security​

 

It's all around us 

There are two key terms in this area: safety and security. Safety focuses on unintended events, such as accidents, mistakes or reduced ability to function, as a result of ageing for example. Security focuses first and foremost on an intended act by an external party.

Research Professor Veikko Rouhiainen points out the pervasiveness of these two aspects: they must be a consideration in all technological research – both as a threat and an opportunity. Society and businesses must ensure the continuity and safety of their operations and processes, as well as their services and products. Safety and reliability are important competitive assets for businesses. 

– We are increasingly dependent on electricity and IT. The development of IT has also created completely new types of risks. In an increasingly complex word, the ability to identify all of them becomes more challenging. 

On the other hand, it is good to remember that, in many respects, our lives are now much more safe and secure than not so long ago – especially in terms of life expectancy. 

– Our average life span has increased due to medical advances and healthier lifestyle choices. The rate of crime-related deaths is down. The death toll on the roads has fallen significantly, even despite increased volumes of traffic. At the same time, both occupational health and safety and product safety have advanced in leaps and bounds, says Rouhiainen, naming just a few positive developments.

Photos: iStockphoto

 

 

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