November 23, 2021 | Security research

DLR inaugurates its Institute for the Protection of Terrestrial Infrastructures

  • DLR opens an institute to research the protection of critical infrastructure.
  • Digital models help to identify vulnerabilities in facilities.
  • Practical use of digitalisation within security research.
  • Focus: Security research, digitalisation, security systems

Everyday life in an increasingly digitalised and connected world depends on functioning infrastructure. The economy and public life would quickly break down without working power grids, water supplies, hospitals and transport networks. The new German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Institute for the Protection of Terrestrial Infrastructures, located in Sankt Augustin, in North Rhine-Westphalia, conducts research into the security of these facilities. Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, opened the DLR Institute for the Protection of Terrestrial Infrastructures on 23 November 2021 in a virtual ceremony, which was attended by Andreas Pinkwart, Minister for Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalisation and Energy for the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, a Member of the Federal Parliament and Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

Modern supply networks are highly complex facilities in which mutually dependent processes, resources and systems must interact smoothly. Even minor disturbances to individual components can therefore lead to more serious problems.

In addition to water and energy supply, critical infrastructure also includes roads, airports, railways, hospitals, public authorities, fire brigades, civil protection facilities and storage sites for hazardous substances.

"Our personal situations during the pandemic and a cursory glance at the news headlines are enough to remind us how important it is to ensure the security of our infrastructure. I am therefore pleased that DLR research can contribute to the protection of these essential systems," said Kaysser-Pyzalla.

These facilities and institutions can easily become a target of criminal activity or terrorist attack due to their importance for a country's economy and society. These assaults may be physical – fires and vandalism, etc. – or may take place in the form of a cyberattack. The risk of environmental and natural disasters or even the effects of a pandemic worsen the situation.

Early identification of potential risks

The DLR Institute for the Protection of Terrestrial Infrastructures uses 'digital twins' to simulate possible threat scenarios and hence to ensure that 'unpredictable risks' do not emerge. This involves creating a virtual model of a facility, for example a transformer station within the power grid. These models include every conceivable item of information, from the geographic location to the response time of the closest fire station. The Institute also engages in research on sensors that are used to detect threats in order to identify dangers at the earliest opportunity. Information about the facility's resilience levels is included in the digital model as well. Once complete, the digital twin can be used to assess how long, for example, a fire door can withstand exposure to flames and whether the fire brigade will be able to arrive on time after receiving an alarm from the sensors.

Three departments within the new institute are responsible for conducting the research, and they are incorporated within the overall DLR security research concept.

The Department of Resilience – Models and Methods investigates the development of models and methods to strengthen infrastructural resilience against threats.

The Department of Detection Systems researches sensor technologies that use intelligent and complex sensor systems to monitor infrastructure components. In addition to optical, thermal and motion sensors, the department is tasked with the further development of sensors for the detection of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

The Department of Digital Twins for Infrastructures creates the virtual models and runs real-time simulations to assess and continuously improve the resilience of infrastructure in almost every conceivable situation.

"Attacks on critical infrastructure endanger society, our country's economic strength and our future viability. The approach of the new institute is excellent and uses the latest tools to increase the resilience of these facilities. The interaction of public institutions with the business community on security issues can give rise to some excellent synergies. The location of Sankt Augustin offers the best possibilities to benefit from these in a short period of time. I am particularly pleased that the Institute has already initiated the first collaborations and is working closely with the Bonn-Rhein Sieg University of Applied Sciences and the Institute for Security Systems at the University of Wuppertal," explained Andreas Pinkwart.


Michel Winand

Corporate Communications Aachen, Bonn, Cologne, Jülich, Rheinbach and Sankt Augustin
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-2144

Prof.Dr. Bernhard Hoffschmidt

Found­ing Di­rec­tor
Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
Institute for the Protection of Terrestrial Infrastructures
Rathausallee 12, 53757 St. Augustin