New set of tools helps crisis management actors step their game up

Reacting efficiently to natural disasters calls for extensive training, effective technologies and well-oiled strategies. The EU-funded DRIVER+ project provides just the means to these ends, due to its unique test bed and portfolio of solutions. Trials in four European countries already show much promise and will help contribute to ensuring citizens' safety.

Crisis management (CM) is one of those lines of work where you constantly need to reinvent yourself. The types of hazards, their characteristics and predictability are constantly evolving, with climate change in the driving seat. Changing citizen vulnerability is a factor of aggravation too, so is increased interconnectedness at both the technical and community level.

In this context, CM needs to keep evolving technologically, while taking into account the fact that a radical change (or no innovation at all) would be very costly and result in a loss of existing capability. A delicate context indeed, in which the EU-funded DRIVER+ project operated from 2014 to 2020.

“DRIVER+ was not about the wholesale redesign of CM capabilities. It was rather meant to help European CM in meeting future demands as they emerged, by means of a distributed European test bed of virtually connected exercise facilities and crisis labs,” says Marcel van Berlo, programme coordinator at TNO in charge of DRIVER+ coordination. “Within this test bed, providers, researchers, policymakers and citizens could progress together on new approaches or solutions to emerging issues, and benefit from a well-balanced and comprehensive portfolio of CM solutions.”

DRIVER+’s three core objectives, which covered the test bed, the portfolio and a shared understanding of CM across Europe, are closely intertwined. The test bed was used to test, select and develop the portfolio of tools, while the latter was key to test bed development and validation. The participation of over 130 CM practitioner organisations, 64 solution providers and over 40 policy representatives in this process generated a shared understanding, which itself is key to the pan-European adoption of the DRIVER+ portfolio and helps ensure that the test bed will remain sustainable over the long term.

Future-proof tools

“We really developed the tools and the methods that can be used by practitioner organisations themselves for their capability development and innovation management,” van Berlo notes. “We worked on a common methodology to address capability development, leading to recommendations and follow-up research questions in a very systematic way. These, in turn, led to recommendations supporting the implementation of new solutions. This all facilitates experience sharing, so that any CM actor in Europe can easily share lessons learned with other organisations and ensure that trial results are valid.”

The DRIVER+ trials took place in four distinct European countries and culminated with a final demonstration. Each trial had its own scenario: a highly toxic chemical spill in Poland, major wildfires in France, severe flooding in the Netherlands and a major earthquake in Austria, all in highly complex settings. In Austria for instance, the scenario involved not only the earthquake itself, but also subsequent heavy rains, missing persons, casualties, collapsed buildings, blocked roads and endangered industries working with hazardous substances. The trial simulated interventions by all local and national emergency response organisations, as well as a request for international assistance.

The final demonstration, on the other hand, focused on the needs of the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) in Brussels. It demonstrated how DRIVER+ solutions could improve communication between the ERCC and the teams which are sent to the country in crisis.

All components of the DRIVER+ test bed are available on as open-source software. These include the technical infrastructure allowing connections to legacy systems, simulators and simulations; the trial management tool (TMT) which can be used to create several scenarios assessing specific aspects of the project trials; the observer support tool (OST) providing checklists and questionnaires for observers and participants in trials; and the after-action-review tool which logs all checklists, questionnaires and messages for further evaluation. All other DRIVER+ tools, such as the Trial Guidance Methodology and the Crisis Management Innovation Network Europe (CMINE) platform, are freely accessible and hosted by relevant partners.

DRIVER+ was completed in June 2020, but its tools are being used and further developed in other EU-funded and national projects. Eventually, DRIVER+ is expected to supplement European CM’s legacy for a reasonable cost. Its focus on current and foreseeable challenges, along with its use of research work under other EU-funded projects, make it a vital suite of tools for stakeholders and as a means to keep citizens safe when disaster strikes – it is even currently being expanded with pandemic-related solutions!…