Research: Role play and computer simulation from Skövde is to”save” Sweden in a major crisis

6/1/2016

What would happen if our payment system were to crash? Or if another major crisis were to afflict our economic infrastructure? The answers to these questions will be sought by means of a large-scale research project through role play and computer simulation designed by among others the University of Skövde. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) have given researchers at the School of Informatics the assignment of ascertaining how society can best recover from an IT-incident, natural disaster, political unrest or other threats that would affect the payment system, transportation or food supply in a dramatic way.

What will happen if the cash dispenser machines cease to function? If the stock market crashes? If a terrorist attack afflicts the economic infrastructure? If transportation fails? What alternative solutions are there to ride out the storm in the best way? The answers are to be provided by Joeri van Laere, Senior Lecturer in Informatics at the University of Skövde, in collaboration with colleagues from Mid Sweden University, Linköping University and the consulting firm Combitech.

- Together we have received a five-year research mandate from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). The grant totals 14 million SEK and we will begin working on the project as early as this summer, says Joeri who also provides an example of how quickly serious situations within the payment system can arise.

- When the financial situation in Greece deteriorated drastically people rushed to the cash dispenser machines and emptied them!  In Sweden we have already done a great deal to prepare ourselves in the event that the card systems were to crash. Up until now, this type of preventive work as mainly focused on the financial sector. The new aspects here are that we are also going to study how food supply and transportation are affected at the time of a major crisis.

Joeri claims that everything is interconnected. If our card does not work, we cannot buy food, fill up the car and food will not be delivered to the shops.

- This is why we will now identify key individuals within the relevant areas and invite them to take part of our research. The objective is to allow these individuals to gain insight and increased understanding in regard to each other’s routines and procedures.

Joeri has previously carried out over a hundred crisis exercises with the municipalities in Skaraborg. He is now eagerly looking forward to doing the equivalent on a large-scale national level. And the future will be simulated in the same way in the new research project.

- It will be done by means of role play where the participants will play themselves and their positions. They will have to make decisions based on a given scenario and each round will take approximately 1.5 hours. The material they will be working with is based on computer simulations, and the aim is for them to arrive at the solutions together.

Once they have arrived at a joint decision the data will be entered into a computer, the measures taken will then be simulated and the participants will be able to see what consequences their actions would have. The group completes up to four of these exercises during one day in order to learn from their experiences and mistakes.

- The intention is not to find exact answers, but rather to allow the groups to improve on their collaboration and to help each other, maintains Joeri.

 

The research team is planning to complete around 30 of these role plays, with 25-30 participants in each one. Once the project has been completed in 2020 the researchers, and then the authorities, are expected to have become much wiser thanks to a factual base that will facilitate the possibility of seeing what would work – and what wouldn’t – in the event of major crises.

- During the next two years we will be constructing the simulations and designing the role plays. After this we will involve key individuals, in 2018-2019. During the final year we will evaluate the results both qualitatively and quantitatively. Each member of the project team, with three universities and one consulting firm, possesses special skills and competence which will be used in the project. In addition we have a reference group at our disposal. Among other things, I have engaged one of my former teachers at the university in Dutch Delft where they are also very good at the combination of role play and computer simulations of this kind, says Joeri.

Combitech has expert knowledge regarding security systems within the banking sector and will therefore serve as a good complement for researchers declares Joeri van Laere. Per Gustavsson, from Combitech in Skövde, is looking forward to working with the researchers.

- This research project is a part of our more extensive venture into Cyber Security, i.e.  IT-security. The University of Skövde and Combitech intend to collaborate intensively in several similar projects in order to continue to develop cutting-edge expertise within the area of Cyber Security in Skövde. For Combitech the strength of the project lies in the joint efforts with several important societal stakeholders from different sectors, as well as the fact that the project is carried out in conjunction with Mid Sweden University, Linköping University and the University of Skövde.

 

Joeri van Laere and Per Gustavsson

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