№ 150/2009 from Jun 16, 2009
Whether the threat is terrorist attacks, a new influenza, or a mobile network collapse lasting hours: worldwide, there are many new public safety risks. As the first nationwide project of its kind, a Public Safety Research Forum is being set up at Freie Universität Berlin. The new research forum aims to recognize, make transparent, and reduce the threats to vital infrastructures in our society.
The forum receives funding from the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research as part of the security research program of the federal government. Its objective is to facilitate the permanent exchange of needs, ideas, and suggestions between national and international security research and industry, associations, public institutions, public authorities, and organizations. A key objective is to bring together previous work on public safety from different disciplines to obtain inter-and transdisciplinary research results that should then be the basis for recommendations for action in politics, industry, and organizations.
Whether the power supply across Europe collapses or a virus paralyzes parts of the Internet – it is repeatedly apparent that our society is partially based on very vulnerable infrastructures. Often relatively small events, such as the switching off of a power line or the upgrade of a computer program, are enough to block a large part of a vital infrastructure and ultimately threaten public safety. How should an emergency call be placed from a mobile phone without a wireless network? How can the care of a dependent person at home be continued without electricity? Who delivers food in time when a wave of influenza affects the food haulers?
The general conditions necessary for public safety have changed greatly over the past 20 years. In recent years, researchers have been identifying new risks and threats. So-called asymmetric warfare has replaced traditional conflicts, and in many regions climate change is threatening agriculture. The technological dependence of the information society has dramatically increased, and thanks to frequent travel, infectious diseases spread faster. Finally, large sectors of general interest have been privatized for cost reasons.
“We live in an era of highly complex and efficient infrastructures that are also very vulnerable,” stated Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Education and Research. “We therefore need to discuss and find new, innovative solutions for the safety of people in our country. We need to create a transparent means of transferring knowledge from research to policy, economy, and public opinion. The Public Safety Research Forum is an important contribution to the civil security culture in Germany.”
The forum will be closely involved in the broad spectrum of research activities in the field of public safety at Freie Universität Berlin. It will include the departments of political science, medicine, law, economics, psychology, computer science, biology, and the social sciences, all of which have already participated in various research alliances in the field of security research.
“Freie Universität Berlin provides an ideal environment for the sustainable development of the research forum," stated Prof. Dr. Jochen Schiller, Vice President of Freie Universität and head of the project. “The wide spectrum of subjects, including many disciplines outside of traditional engineering, ensures the future viability of the project.” Research on security has already been a focus at Freie Universität for a number of years. In 2007 an endowed chair in “Secure Identity” was established.
Schiller emphasized that the Public Safety Research Forum is not only an important contribution to greater security in society. It is also part of the program “Research for Civil Security” of the German federal government. Under the program, social debate and confrontation with issues of public safety are of particular importance. Through workshops and discussions with various stakeholders, the research forum is intended to contribute to an increase in knowledge in the general public and to develop a broader awareness of security-related issues.