Policy or decision-maker
You are a decision maker interested in enhancing inter-organisational disaster response collaboration?
You might want to learn more about the following topics:
Initial suggestions based on lessons learned in TTXs, FSXs,
IN-PREP workshops and end-user interviews:
“Interoperability is not about relinquishing power but enhancing cooperation.”
Overall, a step-wise approach should be taken to enhance collaboration:
- Assessing the Status Quo
- Develop a legal basis/ a governance framework
- Specify collaboration:
- Information sharing and related baseline procedures are essential
- Then joint planning needs to take place.
- Finally, training and exercise on the developed plans are needed. Ideally, joint training programmes are developed (which may also create cross-organisational efficiency gains).
Assessment/ Evaluation and feedback mechanisms should be established with a “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle in which the evaluation results are addressed.
Ideally, central funding should be made available
Lessons learnt about collaboration should be centrally collected and also shared with others (e.g. at EU level)
“Build the actions on evidence”
To enhance the Status Quo, several interview partners suggested starting with an assessment of the Status Quo. These assessments can come in different forms:
- A map specifying the range of bilateral agreements that may exist at the regional and local level
- A review of past events to analyse the strengths and weaknesses in inter-organisational collaboration
- A self-assessment based on the Interoperability Continuum to specify areas for future action.
The IN-PREP Interoperability Questionnaire can be found HERE
“A governance framework ensures that collaboration does not only depend on personal relationships.”
Develop a legal basis
As a next step, framework conditions for collaboration have to be set. In many cases, a legal basis has been created to facilitate collaboration. For example, the Netherlands have started the creation of their Safety Regions after the fireworks disaster in Enschede in May 2000 and the New Year’s fire in the ‘De Hemel’ bar in Volendam in 2001. These Safety Regions function as collaborative entities between several civil protection actors such as fire services, medical assistance and crisis management under one regional management board. The development of the Safety Regions furthermore acknowledged the increasing complexity of society together with emerging “forms of threats [including terrorism which] require a different type of approach, different partners and a different strategy.” Similarly, in the UK, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 provides a single framework for civil protection and seeks to reinforce partnership working at all levels.
Co-design Emergency Plans and (Standard) Operating Procedures
In a second step, plans and operating procedures can be created jointly by the relevant organisations. Several examples as to how this has been approached by certain sectors or countries but also on a multi-national basis are sketched in this handbook. Particularly for sectoral collaboration, it can save a lot of time and effort to build on existing SOPs. Capacities and functionalities could be described at a more abstract level in plain language to be understandable by all organisations. If needed, these can be specified by the individual organisations into their terminology.
It is important that a shared goal is to develop although institutional agendas may vary. The protection of lives should be the guiding principle in multi-agency settings.
The developed plans and SOPs should be linked with (national) risk assessments.
Training and exercising (joint) procedures are obviously an essential part of enhancing collaboration. To ensure that training and exercises are implemented regularly, a respective legal basis and related funding would be beneficial. Overall, “hard” and “soft” issues (technical/human) aspects have to be addressed.
The development of joint training courses helps to integrate collaboration deeply. In addition, it may help to save resources. Respective training may even be mandatory when wanting to move to the next career step.
Due to a frequent turnover in staff, training and exercises have to be implemented on a very regular basis, ideally every 9-18 months.
Involvement of actors:
- Ensure that all actors relevant for the scenario under consideration are involved in the exercise and particularly also its preparation. This holds also true for private actors such as (critical) infrastructure operators, the military etc.
- Early on, share your yearly exercise planning with partner organizations / private actors and give them the option to join in on certain exercises. This improves the possibility that they are able to get involved early in the exercise planning process.
In terms of individuals, ideally, they meet physically and get to know each other at the forefront to establish trust
Defining (joint) exercise goal and sub-goals:
Training goals need to be clearly defined. For example, the focus may be on the execution of whole plans or SOPs or the phase between the event and the creation of command lines, i.e. about the first 30 minutes of an event only. The latter obviously allows for more repetitions and scenario variations. The general approach then allows the identification of actors and scenarios etc.
- Identify a language that is shared by all participants; in the mid-term, respective language courses may have to be made mandatory for key actors
- Try to define a shared terminology.
- Partners should avoid using technical jargon and abbreviations. Wording for capacities / functionalities should relate on a more abstract level to what is needed and the respective liaison officers should translate into their internal wording.
- Build on established glossaries and initiatives to standardise communication.
Use of data:
Which data should be included in the exercise and can be shared with others? Also, invest in the trustworthiness of the data, and define clearly who is the owner/provider of the data to improve trustworthiness from the other involved actors.
The digital sharing of plans allows for a comparison of plans between organisations and even across local geographic boundaries. Ideally, reporting structures are similar to allow for better comparison. This again could be requested by respective legal requirements. Also, the sharing of lessons learned via a portal may be useful to keep track of learnings and re-integrate them into the governance framework and plans.
Why is cross-organisational collaboration relevant for policy makers?
In all major incidents, organisations need to collaborate at different scales, including local, regional, national or even international level. However, collaboration between different actors can be difficult, depending on the level of interoperability they have reached. At the lower levels, Standard Operating Procedures are frequently developed at an organisational level, technologies are purchased individually and also trainings often relate to single organisations only. Hence, procedures and technologies do not necessarily match cross-organisational, if interoperability is low.
The level of interoperability is also guided by a range of ethical and privacy concerns. Indeed, organisations and regions follow different privacy and ethical guidelines, legislation, and cultural expectations. Bringing these together can be a challenge and, if not done carefully, can also lead to distrust.
In smaller incidents, respective challenges do not attract much attention. In major incidents however, they become visible. Some examples encompass:
- London Terrorist Attacks 2005:
The Pollock Report (2013), reviewing past UK incidents states that “The evidence demonstrates, therefore, a need for a review of the extent and scope of inter-agency training. Such training is vital in helping to reduce confusion and in fostering a better understanding of the emergency services’ respective roles”.
- The Netherlands, creation of Safety Regions:
After several events between 2000 and 2003, the Dutch Safety Regions Act was developed in the Netherlands:
“The Dutch Safety Regions Act has a long history that includes some very tangible events that have led to its adoption, such as the fireworks disaster in Enschede in May 2000 and the New Year’s fire in the ‘De Hemel’ bar in Volendam in 2001. […] Because the threat from ‘classic’ disasters was broadened to include different types of disaster – like the foot and mouth crisis of 2003, the threat of a flu epidemic, the threat of terrorism and the ‘gritting salt crisis’ – disaster management has also been expanded over the years to include crisis management. The new forms of threat require a different type of approach, different partners and a different strategy.” (p. 5)
- The Manchester Terrorist Attacks 2017:
At just after 22:30hrs on Monday 22nd May 2017, a suicide bomber detonated an improvised device in an area known as the City Room. Around 14,000 people, mainly teenagers and family, had travelled from across the UK to attend the concert. The bomb killed twenty-two people including many children. Over one hundred were physically injured and many more suffered psychological and emotional trauma. The Kerslake Report reviewed the related preparedness and response activities. While many things went well, several learnings could be identified. For example, the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) did not arrive at the scene and therefore played no meaningful role in the response for almost two hours (p. 8) and stayed “effectively ‘outside the loop’, having no presence at the rendezvous point established by the Police, little awareness of what was happening at the Arena”.
- The Germanwings Crash 2015:
After the Germanwings crash, international media assumed that French standards for privacy were standard across Europe and they reported on the German co-pilot’s name and information about his private life. However, cultural privacy practices in Germany had meant that until the reporting in the international media, not even the pilot’s name had been released within German Media (Falola and Birnbaum, 2015). Revealing the name upset those involved in the investigations as well as the public managing the trauma.
Ramstein Air Base Accident 1988:
A flight manoeuvre that went wrong led to an accident in Ramstein on the US-Air Base with 70 dead and about 1000 injured. There were problems in the coordination between the American and German helpers, especially in care of the injured due to the differences in the systems: the American armed forces, which use a load-and-go system, and the German relief forces, which were seeking a local sighting and care. Thus, some of the injured ‘disappeared’ and then reappeared unannounced in hospitals with an American transport. There was no chief emergency physician on the premises and thus no structured emergency disaster medicine, which led to serious consequences. The communication failed completely, some helpers weren’t even allowed to go in the air base area. (Source; as well as rettungsdienst.de)
Mont Blanc Tunnel Fire 1999:
As one side of the Tunnel was managed by Italians and the other by French, there was no communication between the different brigades. The alarm of the Italians reached the French with a delay. Nobody really knew about what the other side was doing and how many vehicles were actually affected and how many people were hidden in the security rooms, thus causing the death of many people. (Source)
What does cross-organisational collaboration encompass at the national and international level?
Cross-organisational collaboration or aspects of interoperability can be assessed and enhanced among several core domains. In the civil protection context, first steps have been made in the United States by developing an Interoperability Continuum. It was a result of the 9/11 attacks (Source PDF , p. 44, accessed 04.05.2020)
Thomas, J. & A. Squirini (n.a.): Measuring Systems Interoperability: A Focal Point for Standardized Assessment of Regional Disaster Resilience, p. 3, available via: Source PDF (9.11.2020).
Multiple European states have adapted this approach of differentiating dimensions of interoperability such as Governance, Standard Operating Procedures, Technology, Training and Exercises and Usage. For example, the UK in 2009 (Source PDF), Belgium (Testelmans 2017), and France (Mannaioni et al. 2020) built on this approach.
*Please note that while this works in the Chrome browser, other browsers can have issues displaying interactive PDFs correctly. If you run into any issues, please download and complete it using Adobe Reader.
The Interoperability Matrix has been adapted into an interactive questionnaire so that users can gain a better understanding of how they are currently faring from an interoperability perspective and where they can use the Handbook to improve. It is suggested that you conduct the assessment jointly with representatives of (potential) partner organisations. The interoperability of an organisation can only be assessed relative to other organisations.
The TransCrisis survey helps to analyse whether, and to which extent, a particular organisation or policy sector is ready to face a transboundary crisis. It should be noted that this is not an IN-PREP product but an external link to a tool created by a partner project.
Some ethical challenges at the governance level:
For each of these points illustrated in the image above (governance, standard operating procedures, technology, training and exercises, usage) there are diverse privacy and ethical implications that may affect collaboration and aspects of interoperability. It is well acknowledged among disaster practitioners that what risk means is not the same on two sides of a border. Thus what technology, practices, training, and data is needed to assess risk can greatly differ (Abad et al., 2018). What ethical concerns – including cultural priorities are evoked by a crisis are not universally normative but culturally grounded and thus not likely to be resolved through consensus (Leonelli, 2016; Fiore-Gartland and Neff, 2015).
It is important to not treat interoperability as an organisational problem with a technological solution: where if there is the will and the technology supports data exchange, then organisational and personal cooperation and collaboration will follow. Studies have suggested that focusing on interoperability as a primarily technological issue will not solve the organisational and cultural challenges that affect disaster response organisations, such as lack of resources, incommensurable working methods and terminologies, or resistance to change (Allen, Karanasios, and Norman 2013).
To encourage cooperation, therefore, it is recommended that a memorandum of understanding be established prior to use where important definitions, parameters, and guidance pertaining to privacy and ethical principles are established. These should support organisations in readily seeing their values and normal practices in the collaborative efforts, so none feel as though they have to cede authority or ownership.
Abad, J., Booth, L., Marx, S., Ettinger, S. & Gérard, F. (2018). Comparison of national strategies in France, Germany and Switzerland for DRR and cross-border crisis management. Procedia engineering, 212, 879-886.
Leonelli S. (2016). Locating ethics in data science: responsibility and accountability in global and distributed knowledge production systems. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A, 374, 1-12. Source
Allen, D. K., Karanasios, S., & Norman, A. (2013). Information sharing and interoperability: the case of major incident management. European Journal of Information Systems. http://doi.org/10.1057/ejis.2013.8
Initiation of cross-organisational collaboration
A good starting point to further develop cross-organisational collaboration or interoperability should be developed. This can be done by reviewing past event. For example, in the UK, the Pollock report (2013) revealed lessons from more than 30 incidents (https://www.jesip.org.uk/uploads/media/pdf/Pollock_Review_Oct_2013.pdf).
Similarly, a review of the interoperability dimensions might be a good starting point. For example, Testelmans (2017) reviewed these dimensions for the Belgian context (2017, https://www.cidss.be/publications/interoperability-dutch)
In terms of practical aspects, cross-ministry activity is supportive to enhance cross-organisational collaboration.
Also in the international context, the continuum might be applied for assessments on a case-by-case basis. For example, it was applied to assess the interoperability of French UCPM modules in the Swedish system which were deployed in 2018 (Mannaioni et al. 2020).
These are essential to highlight and better understand the differences that exist, build trust amongst diverse individuals, and solidarity. Working groups established alongside any new tool or protocol can greatly improve the familiarity necessary for transboundary users to know what differences exist, and build trust and solidarity. Those will not come from the tools alone, but in proactive (not reactive) relationships. These working groups also should not restrict membership be a top-down determination but let all possible groups involved determine if this is of interest to them (e.g. don’t let one agency’s definition of the problem define who works together). A health official might be able to see that a traffic problem will require bodily care while a police officer might just define it as a security issue.
Based on an interoperability matrix (see section above), different dimensions of collaboration can be developed continuously through the development of frameworks, training and exercises, the use of new technology and finally the integration of lessons learnt into the system. In the UK for example, a dedicated joint organisational learning platform was developed: https://www.jesip.org.uk/joint-organisation-learning. Lessons identified during debriefings and notable practices are registered in a joint database. They are reviewed and eventually – after further evaluation – integrated into the training programme.
While much of this is organisational in nature, there are ethical aspects to consider. To ensure continuous transparency and adherence to ethical practices within collaborations it is essential for technical measures to be paired with social and organisational practices that raise awareness and reflexivity (Powles and Nissembaum, 2018).
Powles, J. & Nissenbaum, H. (2018). The Seductive Diversion of ‘Solving’ Bias in Artificial Intelligence. Medium. https://medium.com/s/story/the-seductive-diversion-of-solving-bias-in-artificial-intelligence-890df5e5ef53