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Latest gathering of “community of users” brainstorms to improve European security and disaster resilience techniques


BRUSSELS – On 12 September, members of the “Community of Users on Secure, Safe and Resilient Societies”, or CoU, gathered at their eighth meeting in Brussels to discuss the results of a half-dozen security-related research projects. (See related “EPISECC” story in this issue.)

Olivier Onidi, second in charge for security policy at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME), led off the three-day conference by addressing its “user” participants, or practitioners who deal with European security and emergency response every day.

“Your work is critical in guiding us, and to help us accelerate the market uptake of different research tools and results,” declared Onidi, who noted that every EU member state wants to conduct more research on radicalisation – a topic to that will be extensively covered in later research programmes.

Launched in early 2014 by the Commission, the CoU’s mission is to improve European security by better linking security researchers with day-to-day security users such as firemen or emergency medical service (EMS) teams. By promoting stronger bonds between its members, the CoU forum aims to better understand and communicate what users want, and then focus on practical research to meet those needs.

Anabela Gago, head of unit for DG Home’s Secure Societies programme, said the CoU’s draft work programme for 2018 would be adopted on 27 October and that pre-commercial procurement (PCP) will be among the flagship priorities of DG-Home’s upcoming research agenda.

“Open procurement will enable European public authorities to modernise their services faster,” she said. “Our ambition is that public authorities come together to develop innovative ideas with the right stakeholders, and be able to jointly procure. The openness of PCP will provide the flexibility to address fast-moving threats.”

Gago also underscored the importance of EU research funding for smaller EU countries. “Only a few member-states have their own security research programmes,” she said. “Most rely on Horizon 2020.”

The conference then reviewed presentations on managing potential disasters. Ian Clark, head of unit at the Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre (DRMKC) within the EU’s Joint Research Centre, summarised the findings of a report (“Science for Disaster Risk Management 2017”) than analyses disaster risk by focusing on its hazards.

“For climate change, there’s been a long tradition of scientific reports, but for disasters, this has been missing,” said Clark. “How do we actually manage these disasters?” One key is what he termed the “bridge concept”: ensuring that lessons which researchers learn from past disasters are carried forward to practitioners preparing for future ones. “The science is very complex, and we need better communication so the science reaches the local level [users]… and evidence from practitioners needs to feed back into the science.”

The next DRMKC report will focus on disaster impacts versus hazards, with a call for authors to be issued by the end of 2017.

Stefania Manca, senior researcher at Italy’s National Research Council, talked about the EU’s “Urban Agenda on Climate Adaptation”, with a focus on the city of Genoa. “We need a systematic approach,” she said, explaining that most municipalities don’t have the resources on their own to tackle the threats posed by climate change. The EU-funded “Urban Agenda” creates a feedback loop between local actors and EU-wide policies to improve local adaptation to climate change. “Our key principles include cities and regions working together in an integrated approach,” she said.

Clive Goodchild, technology planning manager at BAE Systems and coordinator of the EU-funded project, “EuropeaN Cbrn Innovation for the maRket CLustEr” (ENCIRCLE), explained how the project’s contribution toward countering chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attacks.

Standardising information on interfaces is was one way to encourage both innovation and information exchange, though Europe’s disorganised market remains a major obstacle, according to Goodchild.

“Supply and demand are equally fragmented [in the CBRN market],” he said, noting that when it comes to procurement, “it’s hard enough to get centralised national procurement. Somehow, all this has got to be coordinated.” Appealing for feedback from users to the ENCIRCLE cluster, he said “we’re particularly interested in any instruments that will help small-to-medium enterprises get their products into the market,” he said.

Finally, Apostolos Paralikas, policy officer at DG-ECHO, the Commission’s policy directorate for civil protection and humanitarian aid, gave an alarming account of forest fire activity, and the EU’s lack of resilience towards the growing danger of widespread fires.

As of 31 August, forest fires in the EU in 2017 are up 255 percent compared to the 2007-2016 average, with 2016’s record even worse. So far, the union’s European Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated 19 times in 2017, with 15 of those for forest fires.

According to Paralikas, the main culprits are rural depopulation and climate change. Yet while the danger is growing, Europe’s capacity to respond to it remains the same. Though member-states help one by loaning fire response teams and equipment, that help disappears as fires multiply. “As the summer goes on, the EU can’t provide assistance,” he said. “Member states are occupied with their own [fire] problems: the existing resources are overwhelmed.”

Paralikas gave a blow-by-blow account of fires that have raged in Portugal, Italy and France, the resulting fatalities and the assistance provided through the ECPM.

The sole bright spot has been the role played by Copernicus, the EU’s satellite earth mapping system. Copernicus has allowed EU and national authorities to more accurately track the fires and warn nearby populations.

     THE UPSHOT: The main focus of the meeting was on research projects that boost Europe’s resilience to threats, which SECURITY EUROPE will cover in a later article. But the event’s first day generated encouraging signals that users and practitioners have heard the EU’s call for greater collaboration and cooperation. Most of the task to make that truly effective lies ahead, however.
     Cynics may say that EU staffers can talk all day about problems without fixing them, but recognising problems such as market fragmentation and public-procurement dysfunction is the first step towards finding solutions. At least now those users are talking, networking and brainstorming. That’s far better than not talking at all.


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