As Europe is facing one of the most intense heatwaves in its history, forest fires are raging from Sweden to Greece, with people forced to flee their homes and a staggering amount of casualties. In light of such dramatic events, new solutions are needed to better respond to these complex crises. In the context of its second Trial, the DRIVER+ project will test innovative Crisis Management solutions in a scenario simulating a large forest fire occurring in a cross-border Mediterranean environment.
DRIVER+ (Driving Innovation in Crisis Management for European Resilience) is an EU-funded project, designed to enhance Europe’s capacity to respond to natural or man-made crises and disasters. Through a practitioner-focused approach, the project seeks to stimulate the uptake of innovative solutions by European practitioners, including firefighters.
Driver+ Trial #2 – Assessing innovative solutions to fight forest fires
On average, about 4000 square kilometres of the EU burn every year, affecting particularly the area surrounding the Mediterranean. In 2017, however, fires burned nearly three times that much, killing 66 people in Portugal and Spain, and leaving whole communities in a state of trauma. Observers confirm that this trend has been continuing, if not worsening in 2018. “We are observing an expansion of the areas that are at risk, with fires occurring in countries where wildfires were not so common in the past,” says Jesús San-Miguel, a researcher at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.
According to figures from the EFFIS (The European Forest Fire Information System) at least 16 EU countries have experienced more wildfires than usual for this time of year. During the past month in Sweden, more than 80 fires across 260 square kilometres spread through the thick, normally humid northern forests while several other European countries are experiencing unprecedented wildfires, with fears that the recent wildfires in Greece will result in a death toll of more than 100 people.
In light of these alarming figures, there is no question that Europe is in need of more comprehensive and innovative solutions to respond to forest fires. This is where the DRIVER+ Trial #2 comes into play. This Trial is set to take place between 22 and 26 October in France, at the premises of Entente pour la Protection de La Forêt Méditerranéenne (VALABRE), a governmental organisation dedicated to the protection of the forest and the environment against fires. This organisation coordinates the efforts of the 21 departments most affected by forest fires of the South of France. During the Trial, four innovative solutions will be assessed in a scenario simulating a large forest fire blazing in a cross-border Mediterranean environment and threatening wildland urban interfaces.
The overarching objective of Trial 2 is to improve cooperation and coordination between different organisations and agencies from different countries using solutions designed for large scale and complex multi-event crisis. More specifically, the Trial aims to demonstrate how socio-technical solutions can improve the quality of the exchanged information while supporting the Emergency Management Services (EMS) in understanding the crisis dynamics. Ensuring practitioners’ safety on a large forest fire scene is fundamental, as is obtaining an overview of the response operations in order to organise rescue efforts, without disturbing forest fire suppressions operations. It will show the need for a better coordination of the fire-fighters and the EMS rescue operation, as well as the environmental protection agency during a large forest fire with victims. It will also highlight the need to share relevant information with the crisis managers, while preventing information overload. In simple terms, a Common Operational Picture (COP).
Given the impossibility of simulating a wildfire in real conditions, the Trial will be conducted as a tabletop exercise. Stakeholders at every Crisis Management level (local, regional, national and international) and from all the agencies will be participating in the crisis response played out in the Trial scenario:
- firefighters (with aerial reinforcement);
- environmental protection agency;
- medical services;
- decision makers and authorities.
All levels of the command chain will be played from the field command post (with the Incident Commander role) up to the zonal and national operational centres. Actions will be taken by these stakeholders in a realistic information environment, based on both legacy solutions for the chosen country, Crisis Management plans, rescue procedures and good practices of participants and selected innovative solutions. Further actors will be involved based on the scenario developments and the additional side events.
Assessing solutions against practitioner-identified gaps
Because of the unpredictable nature of crises, which are influenced by a vast array of parameters and contingencies, it is very difficult to foresee the potential benefit of new Crisis Management solutions from a purely theoretical standpoint. It is against this background that the DRIVER+ Trials were established. These Trials are aimed at testing, benchmarking, and evaluating a series of solutions in realistic environments with practitioners and comparing these solutions against their legacy resources. A total of four Trials will be conducted during the full DRIVER+ project, which runs until February 2020. These Trials and their scenarios are based on four specific gaps, which were identified by practitioners early on in the project:
- Cross-border tasking and resource management
- High level coordination
- Volunteer management
- Situation assessment and logistics
The organisation of these Trials is supported by the DRIVER+ Test-Bed, which provides both a technical solution to allow the solutions to be put through their paces and a step-by-step guidance to implementing the Trials. More than this, the Test-bed will become a pan-European arena of virtually connected facilities and crisis labs, in which stakeholders can collaborate in trialling and evaluating new tools, processes or organisational solutions.
All results from the Trials will be stored and made available in the DRIVER+ Portfolio of Solutions (PoS), an online database-driven catalogue that will document all the DRIVER+ solutions and provide information on:
- the results and outcomes of their usage during the Trials;
- the specific needs they address;
- he type of practitioner organisations that have used them;
- the regulatory conditions that apply to them.
The PoS will be populated with solutions assessed in the Trials, and ultimately opened up for any external organisations willing to share data and experiences of their solutions. The PoS will allow the identification and sharing of best practices and lessons learnt, which means that practitioner organisations will be more easily able to replicate the successful implementation from one country to another.
Lastly, the long-term objective of DRIVER+ is to build and engage with an active and structured Community of Practice in the field of Crisis Management. A step in that direction has been the creation of the CMINE (Crisis Management Innovation Network Europe), whose role is to facilitate and stimulate the exchange of information and best practices between all actors of the European Crisis Management ecosystem. Indeed, the engagement of policy makers, researchers, practitioners, industry representatives, and citizens in Crisis Management innovation is key to reducing fragmentation, creating a shared understanding and finding better solutions smarter and faster.
Trial 1 took place in May and was hosted by the Main School of Fire Service (SGSP) in Poland – the scenario consisted of the accidental release of a highly toxic sludge in an industrial incident. Details of the Trial are available from the DRIVER+ website. Two further Trials will be held in 2019, the first being a major flooding event in The Hague, Netherlands, and the second will address volunteer management, interoperability and information sharing in Austria.
DRIVER+ is not about the wholesale re-design of Crisis Management capabilities. Instead it is about the simultaneous launch of an ability to adapt European Crisis Management to future demands as they emerge. DRIVER+ is focussing on augmenting rather than replacing existing capabilities.
For more information, go to www.driver-project.eu
The DRIVER+ project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under Grant Agreement n° 607798. The opinions expressed in this document reflect only the author’s view and reflects in no way the European Commission’s opinions. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.