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Ensured infrastructure resilience in case of Pandemics

Pandemics such as the COVID-19 crisis and other health risks have the potential to massively disrupt the functioning of infrastructures and vital societal functions. While this is most evident for the health system, the negative impacts reach much further. Resilient infrastructure systems particularly ‘lifeline’ services such as electric power, water and health care are critical for minimizing the societal impact of extreme events. It is essential to develop targeted solutions to ensure continuity of operations of different services and supplies, which are also critical to allow for prevention, preparedness and response to pandemics. This preparedness must also account for climate change as a “threat multiplier”, for example with heatwaves, storms, forest fires or flooding either accelerating the spread of a pandemic or rendering countermeasures like confinement less effective.

Member States remain the primary actors in preventing and responding to the outbreaks of infectious diseases. Enhanced European coordination into capacity-building, improved prevention, preparedness and coordinated response can support their efforts. In order to improve the EU-wide prevention and response to the specific challenges for the functioning of infrastructure in case of a severe infectious disease crises requires targeted security research which can deliver better knowledge, security risk assessment as well preparedness and response emergency planning tools. Public-private cooperation is absolutely essential in order to respond to a crisis as far reaching as a pandemic. Any comprehensive European approach to infrastructure resilience in case of a disruption caused by it, will need to take due account of this cooperation.

In infrastructure protection research, it is of high importance to understand the impact of the pandemic beyond the directly affected health system. The availability of specialised work force and vulnerability assessment of health capacities constitute the essential elements in this regard, as disruption of infrastructures due to the infection of large parts of a specific work force poses the immediate risk of cascading effects. The same is the case for integrated supply-chains for both critical goods, as well as non-essential ones. As such, understanding interdependencies, reducing vulnerabilities and identifying truly critical activities is key for enhancing overall societal resilience against pandemics.

A situation like the COVID-19 crisis, also puts the capacities of different infrastructures under exceptional stress, due to the rapidly increased demand for certain supplies and services and the ensuring change of load stress of different networks (as for example sudden increase in communication, decrease in transport, ensuring essential resources). Such changes in use-patterns open vulnerabilities, as for example increased cyber-risks in the event of teleworking or less physical protection due to staff contingency measures. Design of some critical infrastructure components, such as transport networks and critical manufacturing may in themselves be resilient to the pandemic threat, but put overall societal resilience at risk by promoting disease transmission and being unsuited to different mitigation measures.

The testing and/or piloting of the strategies developed in a real setting with one or more relevant public authorities is an asset; regardless, actions should foresee how they will facilitate the uptake, replication across setting and up-scaling of the capabilities - i.e. solutions, tools, processes et al. – to be developed by the project.

In order to achieve the expected outcomes, international cooperation is advised.

In this topic the integration of the gender dimension (sex and gender analysis) in research and innovation content should be addressed only if the consortium deems it relevant in relation to the objectives of the research effort.