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:
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. (https://www.austrianwings.info/2018/08/ramstein-1988-tod-aus-heiterem-himmel/; as well as https://www.rettungsdienst.de/news/das-flugschau-ungluck-von-ramstein-20-jahre-danach-2624)
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. (https://www.welt.de/geschichte/article190714365/Mont-Blanc-Tunnel-Sie-vergluehten-bei-1000-Grad-in-den-Schutzraeumen.html)
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 (https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/implementing-9-11-commission-report-progress-2011.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: http://www.spinglobal.co/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Measuring-Systems-Interoperability.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 (http://library.college.police.uk/docs/acpo/Multi-agency-Interoperability-130609.pdf), Belgium (Testelmans 2017), and France (Mannaioni et al. 2020) built on this approach.
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.
The TransCrisis survey helps to analyse whether, and to which extent, a particular organisation or policy sector is ready to face a transboundary crisis.
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. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2016.0122
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, a good basis for decision making 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