Preparing Europe's emergency services for a warmer future
As climate change worsens, natural disasters like forest fires are becoming more destructive. Firefighters and other emergency service providers often feel outmatched. An EU-funded project is helping these first responders improve their coordination and equipment to keep Europeans safe.
© chuangz #160236439, source: stock.adobe.com 2019
According to the European Commission, wildfires in Europe destroyed over 1.2 million hectares of European forests and land in 2017, while claiming the lives of some 127 civilians and firefighters. Emergency services and search and rescue (SAR) personnel often struggle to contain this rising threat. For example, different agencies may have trouble coordinating their actions to work together effectively, or teams might be lacking the equipment to deal with a particular problem.
To address this concern, the EU-funded FIRE-IN project is connecting national emergency services both with each other and with industry innovators who can provide them with the newest technology. The endeavour has identified many capability gaps between current resources and what will be required in the future. It is also building personal relationships aimed at improving communication across agencies and borders, potentially saving lives.
Hundreds of fire and rescue services are scattered across Europe, says Sébastien Lahaye, a firefighter and project coordinator of FIRE-IN. Our project has revealed that services from one region have often developed the best practices necessary for addressing challenges faced by other regions.
Coordination is key
FIRE-IN was created to help solve two problems: a lack of knowledge sharing and a shortage of innovation. As such, this networking initiative involving practitioners is innovative in that it enables first responders to have a say in research design and implementation.
Natural and man-made disasters are increasing in Europe, but technology does not always fit the needs of fire and rescue services, Lahaye says. Theres also a communications gap between practitioners and researchers looking for fire and rescue solutions.
The project is organised into three phrases. The first phase identified common capability challenges, or capability gaps that must be filled.
For this phase, workshops covered five thematic areas of research: SAR and emergency response; structure fires that involve man-made constructions like buildings; vegetation fires that take place in natural landscapes like forests; natural disasters; and disasters involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive threats.
The workshops identified capability gaps for each area, with experts from the field proposing solutions: for example, using more precise GPS data to better locate personnel during disasters.
Solutions were not limited to equipment. They could also include better coordination through a deeper understanding of national practices. Different countries, for example, often place SAR personnel under different agencies. In France and Spain, firefighters perform search and rescue. In other countries, that job belongs to the police.
Phase one is now complete, and researchers have compiled its results into a matrix that matches potential solutions with capability challenges. One example is how to coordinate personnel from different agencies when a disaster hits. The solution? Establish an interagency framework that will help personnel from different agencies and countries train and act together.
Pairing personnel with industry innovators
FIRE-INs second phase began in spring 2019 with workshops in Prague, Aix-en-Provence and Paris. The objective is to evaluate the proposed solutions from the first phase and choose those most fit for purpose.
After targeting the best solutions in phase two, emergency service personnel will use the third and final project phase to tell innovators from manufacturing companies what equipment they will require as the world gets warmer.
In this phase, FIRE-IN researchers will launch an online platform eFIRE-IN which will connect emergency service personnel in the field with research and innovation specialists. If firefighters find they need a certain type of equipment, eFIRE-IN will allow them to alert innovators quickly. Lahaye says the platform will be operational before the end of 2019. It will be closely linked to the development of the Community of Users on Secure, Safe and Resilient Societies (CoU) which is gathering different actors in the area of disaster risk management.