So, everything is fine, keep it up? That was hardly what fate had in store.
This is a special foreword. At least for me it’s special, because it is the tenth time that I have had the privilege of writing an annual report for Fraunhofer INT. That is why it begins the way the first one began..
Typically, one uses auspicious dates like these as an opportunity to look back a little, highlight the most important events and, above all, celebrate successes.
There are quite a few things worth mentioning: two successfully completed strategy cycles at the institute and a significant restructuring; the fusing of two departments into a new one, and the founding of new business units..
Our business with the Bundeswehr has been expanded and new collaborations were formed with the German Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg) and its subordinate departments. The civil side of the business was set up on a broader basis, showing solid, continuous growth.
The Fraunhofer Space Alliance branch laid the foundation for its own business unit, and the expansion of aerospace into a lead market brings the opportunity for Fraunhofer INT to establish itself as the preferred partner for aerospace at Fraunhofer. Numerous cooperation projects were set up with higher education institutes, the Institute for Technology Analysis and Foresight in the field of Security Research at RWTH Aachen University has become an established part of the institute and not least, Fraunhofer INT now has five(!) professorships.
All in all, a good balance sheet, worthy of a dazzling presentation in the tenth foreword. And obviously so stable, that even the pandemic couldn’t cause an economic slump.
So, everything is fine, keep it up? That was hardly what fate had in store. On the night of July 14, 2021, we were dealt what I, in the forward I wrote last year with the scientific objectivity I had then, labeled a ‘wild card’: A conceivable but nonetheless highly unlikely event that can have unexpected consequences..
The district and town of Euskirchen, Germany, was hit by a flood disaster of unprecedented proportions, causing large-scale destruction and claiming human lives. Fraunhofer INT did not escape unscathed. The entire infrastructure was flooded, the basement and the first floor of every building became unusable, covered in water and mud, and a large portion of our experimental equipment was unusable too. On the morning of July 15, Fraunhofer INT found itself at the center of a crisis zone, with no electricity, telecommunications or internet and without even the basic supplies for the simplest of tasks. Numerous employees also suffered personal losses and damage to property.
Blessing in disguise: none of our employees or their families suffered serious injury or death.
Within a matter of minutes, during which water and mud did its worst, Fraunhofer INT became a real-life laboratory. It became an experiment in what I, in the foreword of the 2020 Annual Report, described as “the capability of a system to continue functioning in the wake of a crisis with emergency operating facilities and to return to a normal state as quickly as possible” – not knowing, of course, that we too would soon be in need of this capability.
And immediately we were faced with the question of how to run a research institute with the destructions described above, in order to get excellent research results again in a short space of time. Or, in other words, how resilient is Fraunhofer INT?
All good things come in threes, so the saying goes, and that was the case here too. Firstly, you need highly motivated employees with total loyalty to their institute, switching their lab coats and pencils for heavy duty gloves and rain boots and, without hesitation, clearing mud for weeks, hauling broken furniture and cleaning cable ducts on their knees...
Secondly, you need a network of reliable colleagues and friends to provide a shelter, offer workers and equipment, organize collections for the victims and generally help out in all respects with rebuilding...
And thirdly, you need a certain amount of luck, for example, that all the data survived a violent server shutdown and the research could largely be picked up from where it was interrupted on Wednesday night.
All of these things make Fraunhofer INT an extremely resilient organization. I would like to express my sincere thanks to all institute employees, the colleagues in Munich and Wachtberg, and our friends at the Bundeswehr, who supported us during this crisis.
Although we are already making great progress in the clean-up processes, it will certainly be a long time before the institute can return to normal operations with its infrastructure intact. But one thing is also certain: together, we will rebuild Fraunhofer INT, and in the meantime, excellent research for the state and society will continue as usual, albeit in interim structures.
In the 2021 Annual Report, you’ll find articles on exciting topics we’re working on at the institute, in defiance of the pandemic and the flood.
Stay with us and let’s take a positive look into the future together.
We hope you enjoy reading the report!
Prof. Dr. Dr. Michael Lauster