Category Archives: Objectives

Visual Analytics


Visual  analytics
 provides  technology  that  combines  the  strengths  of  human  and  electronic  data processing.  Visualization  becomes  the  medium  of  a  semi-automated  analytical  process,  where human  and  machine  cooperate using  their  respective  distinct  capabilities  for  the  most  effective results. The user has to be the ultimate authority in giving the direction of the analysis along his or her  specific  task.  At  the  same  time,  the  system  has  to  provide  effective  means  of  interaction  to concentrate  on  this  specific  task.  On  top  of  that,  in  many  applications  different  people  work  along the path from data to decision. A visual representation will sketch this path and provide a reference for their collaboration across different tasks and abstraction levels.

The diversity of these tasks cannot be tackled with a single theory. Visual analytics research is highly interdisciplinary  and  combines various  related  research  areas  such  as  visualization,  data  analysis, data  management,  data  fusion,  statistics  and  cognition  science (among  others).  One  goal  of  this project  is  to  demonstrate  that  joining  research  efforts  from  these  various  fields  can  lead  to  novel, highly  effective  analysis  tools,  contributing  solutions  to  the  information  overload  problem  in  many important domains. Because visual analytics is an integrating discipline, the existing solutions in the area  of  critical  infrastructures  and  crisis  response  will  be  integrated  to  support  decision  making  in situations where multiple critical infrastructures are relevant.

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Critical Infrastructures

Critical infrastructures
 are complex socio-technical systems. Their components and sub-systems are characterized by specific behaviors which result from the applied rules of physics, from technical specifications, and the established control regime. The resulting behaviors tend to be quite complex under normal and under exceptional conditions. Dependencies between critical infrastructures result in more complex behavior, including cascading failures and nonlinear effects. This holds for dependencies within the same sector and across different sectors. Power grids, telecommunication networks, transportation, food, public health, and logistic systems are tightly connected – but managed largely independently from each other. Failures in one network can propagate within this network; for example, blackouts in power grids, traffic contingencies in telecommunication or logistic networks. More significantly, they can propagate to other critical infrastructures (CI) within the same domain (power blackouts) and to depending CIs in other sectors (power blackouts or telecommunication failures affecting all other CIs). Risk in one network directly influences risk in a depending one. Whereas information management and control within one critical infrastructure is well adapted to the needs of risk management within its own network there is currently no appropriate approach towards a holistic risk management taking risks from different critical infrastructures into account.

Things are already complex today – and they will get even more complex in the years to come. New technologies and system structures are evolving:

  • in the power sector regenerative and distributed energy production, large distances of power transport, power trading, smart metering and smart grids
  • in telecommunication networks an integration of telecommunication, Internet, and mobile networks
  • in logistics a significantly increased role of information and communication technologies
  • In food safety and protection, logistics management, efficient distribution and interconnected production networks, lead to consumer items with ingredients from dozens of countries that can travel from field to table in only a few days with interrelated dependencies on computer networks, transportation networks, logistics, energy, and finance.
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Information and Communication Technologies

Even more than today, information and communication technologies (ICT) will form the information and  control  backbone  of  all  critical  infrastructures.  This  generates  new  opportunities  for  their effective and efficient management. But at the same time it generates new vulnerabilities. A loss of ICT functionality will severely influence the operation of critical infrastructures. Until recently, large critical infrastructures operated on their own, independent information and control infrastructures. In the future this will be possible only in rare exceptions (for instance, for the European transnational power grid). Most critical infrastructures will rely on external telecommunication networks not under their own control. This generates new dependencies which need adequate treatment.

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Information Management

A key issue for the management and control of such large complex critical infrastructures with their manifold dependencies is information management. For information management within one critical infrastructure the currently existing approaches have to be extended and adapted to the new needs in future networks. The usage of external ICT networks and the growing complexity of information to be managed are the main points. Much more information from different sources has to be processed in much shorter time intervals. Equally important,information from depending critical infrastructures has to be provided and processed in a form enabling holistic risk estimation and management.

Management  and  control  of  large  complex  critical infrastructures  are  done  today  by  highly  skilled and trained experts with significant and indispensable support from sophisticated highly adapted ICT systems. These systems provide three main functionalities:

  • collection and processing of all incoming information from the own network and from related networks
  • analysis of information according to highly adapted, special purpose built-in procedures
  • presentation of information and results in an appropriate form to the human experts.
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Information Modelling

A key issue for such an integrated approach is information modeling. Today’s simulation systems are based  on  special  purpose  data  models  based  on  the  needs  of  the  respective  critical  infrastructure. These  models  look  different  for  power  grids,  for  telecommunication  systems,  and  for  logistic simulators (and for other CIs). In order to manage and simulate dependent CIs an integrated model is needed  allowing  the  integration  of  the  different  special  purpose  models.  These  integrated  models have to be run on simulators which enable the simulation of complex system behaviors in dependent CIs. Different scenarios can be simulated as sequences of events and actions within one CI or crossing the borders between them.

Such federated simulations provide a new integrated component of visual analytics. Not just data but comprehensive simulations of complex system behaviors can be used as basis for complex but highly adapted analytical investigations and special purpose presentations to human decision makers. Novel visual  analytics  systems  to  be  developed  within  the  proposed  collaboration  will  tightly  integrate  CI simulation and analysis with advanced visual interfaces to support effective decision making by the human.

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Decision Making

Even  with  sophisticated  information  and  control  systems,  decision  making in  critical infrastructure  management  is  a challenge. This holds for normal and near-normal operations, and even more for crisis management. The  system  behavior  is  too  complex  to  be  fully  accessible  by  human intuition.  Though  human expertise is an indispensable pre-requisite to manage such complex systems, the analysis of system behavior  and  the  prediction  of  changes  need  special  purpose  simulations  which  take  the  specific modes  of  system  behavior  into  account.  That’s  why  CI  information  and  control  systems  include special purpose simulations (such as, for instance, N-1 contingency analysis in power grids). They are an essential pre-requisite to understand and manage the complexity.

Today, these simulation systems are highly adapted to the specific domains. They are based on the assumption to completely know the state of their critical infrastructures. Both assumptions are not adequate  for  dependent  critical  infrastructures  with  external  ICT  systems.  They  are  not  suited  for holistic risk management in such dependent networks of networks. What is needed is an integrative information  management with  federated  simulations  bringing  the  different  system  behaviors together.

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