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Interoperability with Re-DIRNET

26 November, 2014

On 11 November 2014, at St. James’ Park Football Stadium, Newcastle, UK B-APCO’s Shaun O’Neill assisted by Paul Kinsella hosted a workshop on Project Re-DIRNET, which aims to tackle interoperability during cross-border multi-agency responses to major crisis incidents.

Re-DIRNET is an EU funded research and development project from the 7th Framework Programme; it commenced in March this year and will run for 30 months. Its objective is to improve multi-agency interoperability both from a technical and non-technical perspective. The project builds on the developments and findings from earlier EU projects namely SECRICOM and FREESIC. It is focused on developing capabilities to exchange information in data, image and sensor formats; and introduces a generic web 2.0 (‘do it yourself’) inter-agency set-up of inter-operability

B-APCO’s role in Re-DIRNET has been centred on the identification of issues that can inhibit interoperability, which the Association has been carrying out through extensive consultation with end users, as well as review and analysis of major events and interoperability-focussed reports.

During the workshop interoperability issues were reviewed and possible solutions were analysed by six end-users:

· A London Fire Brigade Group Manager

· A Fire service ICT manager from the Welsh Joint Emergency Services Group

· A Hampshire Police Service Radio Tactical Advisor

· A London Metropolitan Police Service Radio Tactical Advisor

· A UK Cabinet Civil Contingencies Secretariat Information Assurance Manger

· An Emergency Preparedness Manager West Midlands Ambulance.

Tim Gilberts, a Fire Service ICT Manager, was very positive about the UK’s involvement in Re-DIRNET; ‘There is perception in the UK that we don’t have the border situations that the rest of Europe have. But we do have connections with Europe; we have the Channel Tunnel for example, and should a large incident occur on mainland Europe that could affect us, or an event such as the Icelandic cloud, we should not be disconnected and be unable to engage with our European partners.

‘In the UK we don’t look at what’s happening in Europe and the wider world enough. But if you take ideas from different areas and thinking cross border, and mash it in the middle, what you get is applied research, not theoretical research.’

Bringing end users into the Project has brought much-needed context, explained Mr Gilberts: ‘Yesterday saw a group of people come together from different backgrounds; people with operator experience, managerial experience and IT management, but all our points of view were grounded in reality. What we can afford, and what are our aspirations; so we can bring some reality to this Project. We often hear, “Oh we can connect everything, do this, do that” - yes that’s great, but what is really important is to draw down from the user what their actual needs are. By using the approach that project manager Shaun is taking, you can focus on all the important issues. This provides a clear set of instructions to the researchers, so that they don’t go down the ‘who shouted the loudest’ route. Otherwise the scope is guided by what a few individuals from the technological world think is what is wanted.’

The workshop in Newcastle saw a wide range of points and proposals being discussed, explained Mr Gilberts: ‘One of the things the project will have to look at is the issue of privacy and the balance of public safety. The mashing up of lots of geo data gives away the location of the subject by taking data from phones. The temptation might be technologically to have a constant data feed, and this is a strategic problem for the European Union to address when considering Data Protection legislation balanced against public safety.’

Other issues discussed included the value that a future Re-DIRNET capability could offer to the Maritime and Coast-Guard Agency in its operations with various organisations from several different EU states; also the ‘noxious cloud’ scenario (e.g Buncefield and Icelandic ash cloud) and how validated air quality and wind direction sensor information for such large events potentially being readily available to affected responding agencies could better inform public health guidance and evacuation options over large sections of a country, importantly without the need to overload demand for such information on single agencies already fully occupied at the core of such an incident.

Workshop host Shaun O’Neill added: ‘Interestingly, in the Czech Republic voice interoperability is set and required by law for new procurements of ICT; and in the Nordic countries there is informal use of English as a common language between agencies responding to a cross border crisis incident between Sweden and Denmark and Sweden and Finland. MAIT in the UK is another angle on interoperability information exchange.

‘It appears at EU and state level that an incremental “local/ bottom-up” or bi-lateral approach is the way forward currently with current data exchange ICT capabilities. Re-DIRNET perhaps offers a glimpse of the future and its potential to connect emergency response agencies more broadly and more strategically.’

As for next steps, Mr O’Neill said the UK workshop outputs would be further refined and then combined with the proposed solutions from similar workshops planned over the next two months in Belgium, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

In early 2015 the findings from all the national workshops will be collated into one format that can be presented to an assembled international validation team of users during the B-APCO 2015 event in Manchester next April. Following the outcomes of this validation exercise system and technical development work will progress towards a full proof of concept of trial.

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