Background for initiating ROSS Gemini Centre

Background for initiating ROSS Gemini Centre

Reliability and safety are very important aspects to many facets of our "quality of life", to all types of transport and communication, to production of goods and services, to energy supply and consumption, to environmental protection, and generally to achieve a sustainable development.

Over the past decades, we have seen a wide range of major accidents with a high number of fatalities, huge economic losses, and devastating damage to the environment. These accidents have occurred within the transport sector (railway, air, sea, road), the chemical industry (e.g., Bhopal, and the Sandoz fire) the petroleum industry (e.g., Piper Alpha), the nuclear power industry (e.g., Chernobyl), and so on.

Several studies have concluded that the overall risk is increasing in many sectors. Among the factors contributing to the high overall risk are: the ever-increasing focus on speed and efficiency, the increased complexity of almost all systems, and the very tight coupling between systems and processes, e.g., as a result of the "just in time" philosophy and the extensive use of computers and networks. In addition, the vulnerability of many systems is increasing due to societal factors, like "cracking", vandalism and terrorism.

An increasing number of systems are controlled by software, and the control systems as well as the systems themselves often are connected in networks. This implies increased complexity and tighter coupling, and increased vulnerability with respect to software inadequacies and also to threats cased by hostile actions. Examples of such systems include: process shutdown systems, and automatic train control (ATC) systems. Several new standards have recently been introduced, e.g., IEC61508 and EN50128. To prevent accidents, safety critical software systems have to be analysed far more thoroughly than what is current practice.

The vulnerability of production and transport systems, and general infrastructures including communication networks is becoming an urgent political issue and worry, as described in the report from the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, and more recently in the report from the Norwegian Governmental Commission on the vulnerability and emergency preparedness of society. The vulnerability perspective merges the safety/accident area and the security/deliberate violation area. Intentional and unintentional acts may have the same effects regarding breakdown of systems, losses, recovery, and survival.

The ROSS Gemini Centre has a general focus on prevention of accidents in technological systems that may cause damage to people, assets and the environment. Furthermore to provide systems that are cost optimal with respect to reliability and safety requirements. The prime focus is on causes of failures and accidents, and on system designs that may lead to more reliable and secure systems, with a multidisciplinary approach to technical, human and organisational factors.

A strong competence within the area of reliability and safety has been built up at SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in parallel with the development of the Norwegian offshore oil and gas activities and telecommunication infrastructure. A strong increase in the petroleum related research activities at NTNU/SINTEF were seen after the Bravo blowout in the Ekofisk offshore oil field in 1977, and further strengthened after the Alexander Kielland platform disaster (123 fatalities) in 1980. Reliability oriented research has been steadily increasing over the same period, and from 1985, information security has been a fast growing research and education area. Today, NTNU and SINTEF, offer more courses and have more research activities related to reliability and safety than any other university or research organisation world-wide.

The research of the ROSS Gemini Centre covers a wide range of theoretical and applied research activities, where academic activities are combined with practical projects for industry.

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The ROSS Gemini Centre develops and distributes knowledge, methods, and tools that can be used to reduce the risk to persons, assets, and the environment, and to design reliable and robust systems and processes. The centre also gives Master and PhD candidates a high quality education, sound attitudes and ethics related to reliability and safety.