For the human body alone, resistance against and adaptation to diseases and other harmful influences is already a highly complex process that is far from being fully explored in medicine. Even more complex still is the issue of resistance, adaptation and learning ability – resilience – when it comes to entire human societies or even to complex ecosystems. The topic "Resilience Engineering" has become even more important as the consequences of global climate change are becoming increasingly apparent. For example, regarding disaster relief and reduction, the focus is now put increasingly on protecting people and entire regions against severe storms, floods, droughts and other extreme weather events, to make them more resilient, and to enable them to learn to adapt to the events increasingly better.
"Resilience Engineering", our third research focus, faces these great challenges. It does not only deal with the negative consequences of climate change, but also with other threats, which are further increasing in a technological, closely networked and adverse, conflictual society and which range from terrorism over geohazards to industrial accidents. With the term resilience, we mean the ability to prevent human, financial and other damages due to adverse events or at least to minimize them, and to ideally grow stronger, more resilient through the event. Research approaches, methods, technologies and solutions are designed to improve the safety, reliability and situational adaptability of complex systems. These include individual components as well as networks of interconnected infrastructures. In this research area, individual approaches are correspondingly deepened and networked in different ways. The research topics range from risk modeling and systems simulation over innovative and intelligent protection measures for infrastructures to the question of how natural systems can be a model for the design of technical systems regarding their resilience to geohazards.
Dams and dykes against severe flooding, homes that can withstand strong winds, acid-resistant surfaces – the requirements for technical systems and building structures are constantly growing due to the consequences of climate change and also due to social threats. A sustainable development of novel resilient materials, structures and systems must be implementable ecologically and economically and at the same time, take other factors such as aesthetics or social acceptance into account.
Nature is the best model for resilient and adaptive developments. Through a systematic approach, evolutionarily optimized biological solutions can be transferred to technical applications, for example when we consider the structure of trees as a model for the construction of earthquake-proof buildings or naturally occurring cellular structures as models for the development of biological plastics. Starting from biological models (biology push) or technical issues (technology pull), the focus is especially put on questions of resilience of natural systems as models for technical systems, and solutions for resilient engineering structures are investigated in interdisciplinary cooperation.
Changes related to climate change and other developments such as extreme weather events – long-lasting drought, flooding or exceptionally violent storms – disrupt or destroy the natural balance of ecosystems. Increasing the resilience of natural systems requires a comprehensive understanding of the underlying natural processes and their statistical frequency. On this basis, we will develop concrete proposals for action. The investigation strategies range from methods of long-term monitoring over geo- and bioscience experiments to simulation models that help analyzing potential hazards and forecasts.
In order to achieve sustainable security and reliability, and thus, resilience, our research requires a systematic use of various methods. Here, the first thing to learn to simulate is the behavior of complex socio-technical systems. Only when it is explored whether these simulations are reliable, meaning they can reflect reality adequately, can safety, reliability, adaptation and regeneration capacity and flexibility during extraordinary or disruptive strains be evaluated, and thus the response of systems to extreme events.
Socially relevant engineering systems are usually designed according to the latest state of the art. Not included are stresses that cannot be foreseen in the design phase of those systems. But what if changing climate and parameter conditions affect the structures and systems? In order to take dynamic processes into consideration, adequate solutions are developed that make possible both to detect new stresses and to represent the current state of systems. This includes their wear and their health status as well as possible cascading effects, i.e. effects that become only relevant in the sum of their properties.