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Information sharing tackles emergencies in Italy, and beyond!

Fast reactions and the smooth exchange of information are critical to containing emergency situations. Following a decision by the Italian government on information sharing between emergency services, fire-fighting authorities will now implement a communications platform developed by European researchers.

The Italian Ministry of the Interior has issued a formal decree concerning the sharing of data between the fire department and other emergency organisations, such as the ambulance service.

The decree – published in the government’s Official Journal of 3 July – defines the communication protocols for exchanging data and information between emergency service command and control rooms.

This is the first time in Italy that an emergency organisation will open its databases to other similar organisations, providing they adopt the communication protocol which has been defined and developed within the REACT project.

Today in Italy, as in most of Europe, emergency services (such as ambulance and fire services) rely on the telephone for communicating critical information about an incident. The process is unstructured and largely manual. Mistakes can cost valuable time, human resources and, potentially, lives.

But REACT’s work refining and combining two established communications protocols – the CAP (Common Alerting Protocol), a de facto standard and TSO (Tactical Situation Object), an upcoming standard – is set to change all that in Italy. And following trials in Germany and the UK, talks are underway with the respective authorities to implement REACT’s platform there as well.

Mind your language

TSO is used like a dictionary for removing local expressions from language, in this case the code and language of data and procedures. CAP is excellent for structuring data from different sources and formats into messages that can be used by any application. Combined, the protocols effectively standardise the information so that it can then be used across jurisdictions, threat types and warning systems.

“A car crash might need an ambulance on the scene, but not necessarily the fire services,” says REACT’s coordinator Uberto Delprato. “But if the crash involves a petrol tanker, fire-fighters will definitely be needed. The tools we are putting in place in Italy can process the information in each context and deliver it to the appropriate services, fast.”

As a European project involving Italy, Germany, Belgium, Slovenia, Austria and the UK, REACT is able to take this one step further.

Cross-border thinking

“Our consortium crosses borders, and so does our thinking about how to apply our protocols and services. For example, our pilot in the German town of Aachen also brought together authorities in the Netherlands and Belgium, which means there is scope to extend REACT’s reach to enable a cross-border alert protocol agreement,” the CEO of IES Solutions tells ICT Results.

The Sixth Framework Programme-funded project was due to end in February 2009, but the partners secured an extension for further testing of their systems, such as the software enabled by CAP which analyses trends in the alert data and simulates potential impacts.

“Analysing patterns this way means we can reliably assess the impact of an explosion or a chemical release, for example, on the surroundings and advise emergency services to block off a street, a block or even a whole city,” says Delprato.

The project was never just about concepts. REACT is keen to offer real and functional tools and services. “The extension should help us to replicate our recent Italian success elsewhere in Europe,” he suggests.

Christian Nielsen | alfa
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