By PATRICK STEPHENSON
BRUSSELS – The woes of Europe’s fragmented crisis-management and disaster-response communities are longstanding and well-known. Civil first responders, militaries and other crisis-management operators use different training, operating, and procurement standards – inefficiencies that raise costs and retard response times.
But what if Europeans agreed to common standards? Costs could be slashed, response times lowered — and more lives would probably be saved, particularly during cross-border incidents.
That elusive goal lies behind the project known as ResiStand, a Horizon 2020-funded effort to boost disaster resilience by creating and supporting the standardisation of crisis response-related technologies and services.
Suppliers, end-users, and researchers came together here on 1 February during ResiStand’s first workshop to thrash out how to jump-start standardisation in this difficult field. Part of the problem is the sector’s sheer complexity.
There are at least six types of standards — basic, terminological, testing, product, process, and service. Many organisations claim the right to impose standards, including the International Electrotechnical Commission, European bodies (the European Telecommunications Standards Institute), and a variety of national and private bodies whose members pay fees.
Clemente Fuggini, ResiStand’s project manager, laid out the stakes during the workshop. Global crises have wide consequences, and responding to them requires joint operations and complex resilience, conditions which Europe’s fragmented crisis-response industry makes difficult to achieve.
Despite the overwhelming case for more common standards, very few of them have been developed. Stakeholders do not adequately participate in the process; there is no clear path from research to actual standards; more coordination is needed between committees working on different aspects of standardisation; and the committees and work groups that do exist tend to work slowly. All this, Fuggini said, must be overcome if the EU is to bridge the ‘valley of death’ that separates EU-funded research projects from results leading to standardisation and commercialisation.
ResiStand has three objectives. The first involves a roadmap for future standardisation, with plans for a new standardising organisation. Second, it aims to flesh out the consequences of standardisation by exploring both its potential and its limits. Finally, ResiStant hopes to establish a new process for future standardisation. “The idea is to hand over the process to standardisation organisations, and have it running continuously, so it’s a dynamic process that could be updated,” said Fuggini.
The workshop brought together crisis-management and disaster-response end-users and suppliers. The former include first responders, law enforcement and non-governmental organisations, while the latter included big industry, SMEs and the research community.
Workshop participants broke into groups, with suppliers identifying the standardisation opportunities, and solutions to potential problems. Topics discussed included drones, algorithms, border control and the symbols that emergency response crews use to identify common threats.
Social media was also discussed, given its relevance to emergency response. A social media user, for example, could try to communicate some unfolding crisis to appropriate authorities. But if the user is, say, a German in France posting in German to a German version of Facebook: would French emergency responders receive the urgent message?
Industry experts were unsparing in their judgments about the state of European standards. The problem is less about the standards – they exist – and more about how to find them. “Nobody knows what standards are out there,” one participant said. “It’s a junk yard [where] international organisations might have standards, but they haven’t drifted down to suppliers or end users.”
Other workshop participants questioned the usefulness of defining standards at all. “Industry drives the standards, and then they work with the regulators, rather than the other way around,” one expert observed, adding however that “sometimes you need fast standards. When it comes to social media, you don’t have seven years”…i.e., the usual product-cycle to produce standards for communications equipment.
The project’s work is just getting started. A second workshop will take place on 11 September in Brussels, with ResiStand’s final conference scheduled for April 2018 in Berlin where the project will present its final ‘standardisation roadmap’ and a ‘ResiStand process’ to EU Commission officers for their review.
Right now, there seems to be no overall tracking system or database that contains the standards proposed or enforced by different international and national bodies. (The EU has had a go here, but the list is far from complete.)
If such a database does exist, industry practitioners don’t know about it. Merely establishing – or at least publicising – an exhaustive and searchable database would be a huge step forward. It would reveal which fields enjoy harmonious standards and which don’t. It would also prod the various standardisation bodies to sort out their jurisdictions, and avoid duplication.
Without such a database, it is hard to see how the most well-intentioned projects — ResiStand among them — will help crisis management and disaster response operators. Yes, a ‘roadmap’ will be duly produced for ER 2 million, and handed over to EU officials in a solemn ceremony, and vigorously nodded at. But as one industry insider noted, “all a roadmap does is communicate the problem. But you need a strategy. Without that, all you have is a nice diagram.”
Indeed, the EU is awash with roadmaps produced by its various security research projects. The real value in ResiStand would be in its “process” for ensuring that its roadmap leads to something concrete.