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New emergency response system helps fight disasters


In densely populated Europe, environmental and industrial disasters endanger thousands of peoples’ lives every year, causing enormous disruption to civil infrastructures. Frequently emergency services struggle to react in time and control a fast-developing situation. IST project EGERIS was intended to increase the safety and the efficiency of civil protection organisations and authorities involved in risk management operations.

EGERIS was completed in December 2003 with demonstrations of working information and communication systems that combined the technologies of GPS, GSM, PMR (Professional Mobile Radio) and other technologies. The system allows emergency services to have, in real time, an up-to-date knowledge of the situation in order to take the right decision to minimise the consequences of the disaster.

Fast and effective communications critical

"Our goal is to provide communications systems and tools that would help rescue teams during emergency operations," says project coordinator Martine Couturier of EADS Defence and Security Systems in France. The objective of EGERIS is to provide the action chain to be used during the operations when a disaster is declared. The system links all the people in charge of taking actions for disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

EGERIS concepts are implemented in a common generic architecture, compatible with the legacy systems and independent of network systems. Developments are oriented to maximise high availability, timeliness and responsiveness, security performance, interoperability, standardisation and the ergonomics of the system. Extensive field trials in various countries (France, Italy and Czech republic) by end-users have proved the operability of the system.

Project participants developed the EGERIS system therefore not only with several of the most common applications already fully integrated, but also with the ability to integrate with other applications as necessary.

In case of large-scale emergencies, one of the most frequent problems facing rescue teams in the field is knowing the whereabouts of the various team members. "With a major fire, there are so many men in the field that it can be difficult for the command centre to know where everyone is and to keep them safe. Especially when such fires could be driven by 100 kilometre per hour winds," says Couturier.

The EGERIS architecture is based on the idea of initial alerting and response from a fixed control centre, with mobile command centres set up as necessary to direct the rescue teams from within the proximity of the disaster area. Field crews are equipped with small-scale devices such as PDAs, GSM/GPRS mobile phones and GPS, providing fast voice/data communications and position location for each member of the team.

The benefits of such an approach are obvious. Instant communications between all the members of the disaster response teams provides the control centres with real-time coverage of the extent of a disaster and how it is progressing. This information is vital to enable the command centre to direct resources to the best effect, to take control of the situation and to put a recovery plan into action.

Tested in disaster scenarios across Europe

The EGERIS system was tested in three different locations and disaster scenarios across Europe; fighting forest fires in the Var region of southern France, dealing with potential earthquakes in the region around Modena, Italy, and controlling flooding around the river Odra in the eastern Czech Republic.

In the Var fire brigade headquarters, based in Draguignan, around 100 firemen were trained to use the EGERIS tools. Some 12 exercises were carried out, in an area frequently threatened by fire hazards, over a six week period during June and July 2003. Some 10 to 15 vehicles and 25 firemen were mobilised for each exercise.

The initial response group consisted of six vehicles, each vehicle equipped with a PDA and GPS-based navigation tools. Staff in the mobile command centre were able to see in almost real time the exact position of each GPS-equipped vehicle, enabling better direction of team efforts and ensuring the safety of the crews on the ground.

For the Modena trials in Italy, the exercises were carried out during three days in the Pavullo area in September 2003. The exercises were organised so as to represent the whole command chain for three main functions; road network survey, macro seismic survey and building damage assessment. Some 10 civil protection and seismic survey officials were trained in the use of the EGERIS tools.

The scenario used was that Pavullo is shaken by an earthquake of 5.9 magnitude. An estimated damage scenario was downloaded into the EGERIS system, while field teams were sent out to survey the road network and simultaneously a macro seismic survey carried out.

The field teams, equipped with PDAs and GPRS mobile phones, collected data from the field and transferred it immediately to the command centre. The command centre was then able to see, based on actual data, the real extent of any damage and from this develop an effective recovery plan. EGERIS proved that it can significantly improve the efficiency of field teams in charge of assessing damage and collecting data.

In the Czech Republic, trials were carried out at the beginning of September 2003 in the emergency call centre of the Ostrava fire brigade. Ostrava is the capital of the Moravian-Silesian region, and suffered severe flooding for 14 days in 1997. The Czech trial was based on the experience and the data gained from these floods.

Following a period of heavy and continuous rainfall, EGERIS created a list of the contacts who should be informed, sent automatically to various emergency planning centres the water flow rates obtained from rainfall-runoff modelling software at the Odra river basin authority, and provided a quick prediction of the flood potential based on historical data.

Emergency planning staff, who are able to see on their PCs an entire overview of the area at risk, were able to plan evacuation routes that would not be blocked by floods. EGERIS brought significant support to the key actors responsible for managing the crisis, and allowed them to share their own computer data with the other organisations involved.

The project partners have now developed the system into a marketable product. It has also produced a CD-ROM showing the results of the three trials. Available in English, and soon also in Czech, French, German, Italian and Spanish, the CD-ROM includes photos and short videos of the EGERIS-equipped emergency teams in action, as well as data on the system itself.

Martine Couturier
EADS Defence & Security Systems
Tel: +33-1-34637351
Fax: +33-1-34637920
Source: Based on information from EGERIS

Tara Morris | IST Results
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