ESS: Emergency Support System (ESS)

Published on: 13/02/2013

The Emergency Support System (ESS) is a suite of real-time data-centric technologies, which can provide actionable information to crisis managers during abnormal events. Such information enable improved control and management, resulting in real-time synchronisation between forces on the ground (police, rescue teams, fire-fighters) and out-of-theatre command and control centres (C&C).

The ESS project aims to:

  • Integrate data from various sources into a common information management and communication platform for updating  promptly the Common Operational Picture;
  • Develop portable and mobile smart communication elements for supporting the management and coordination of operations during emergency;
  • Integrate ad hoc networking technology of intelligent sensors for addressing emergency and crisis management requirements.

The main scientific areas to which the project contributes are the following:

  1. Emergency coordination and Crisis management
  2. Information deficits and pathologies during abnormal events
  3. Information processing under pressure

Furthermore there are three broad research objectives that ESS has to address:

The scientific objectives are translated into technological objectives, whereby the overall mission of the ESS consortium is to research, develop and illustrate the capabilities of the Front-End (FE) collection tools; these are mainly based on real-time sensing technologies, Data Fusion Mediation System and Back-End applications and portal, and the Integration of all into one consolidated system, where all the collected information is analysed, alerted and viewed at the back office in order to create a common framework, which synchronises and collaborates information from and to all the acting authorities during abnormal event.

ESS is funded by the European Commission under the Grant Agreement No. 217951 of the 7th Framework Programme, Theme 10-"Security", call FP7-SEC-2007-1, Work programme Topic 4.2-01 "Network enabled command and control system".

The following video presents the concept of the ESS project and gives the outline of the ESS IT platform, which aims supporting crisis management based on collection and fusion of real time data derived from ad hoc deployed field-sensors.

Policy Context

Modern societies are confronted with an increasing number of abnormal events, crises, disasters and catastrophes. Such extreme events are marked by threats to societies’ values and/or life-sustaining functions and create an urgent need to respond to them under conditions of severe uncertainty.

In case of an abnormal event, it is the responsibility of public authorities to manage the response operation in order to save lives and restore a sense of order. In the first years of this millennium, a spate of extreme events demonstrated just how hard these challenges are. Examples include the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, the bombings in Madrid and London, the threat of avian bird flu and SARS, the Beslan drama, the Boxing Day tsunami in South East Asia, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the US. The 2005 terror attack in the London underground and the 2006’s Hurricane Katrina proved that precious time was lost because of de-synchronisation of information and lack of up-to-date information sharing, between different public authorities.

One of the constant challenges encountered by public authorities when managing emergency response networks is the lack of actionable information, i.e. the information that is required for making high-quality decisions under pressure. During the initial phases of an emerging crisis it is often unclear what the situation is: what is the cause? How are people responding? How many casualties? What is the damage? Has the threat evaporated or is it still evolving?

Without accurate information, crisis managers find it hard to make fast and correct decisions. In fact, the absence of reliable information (combined with the flood of unsubstantiated reports and rumours) tends to have a paralyzing effect on decision-makers in a crisis situation. The risk in making decisions based on partial, non verified information may have unintended effects, which may fuel rather than dampen the crisis and may thus delay decision-makers from taking necessary steps.

The problem has both technical and cognitive roots:

  • The technical problem lies in the inability of contemporary communication systems to provide information from multiple disaster sites to one crisis command centre. Existing systems typically collapse during disasters, or only provide partial perspectives/solutions, for example: Usually command and control systems for police do not have information about hypsography – it is not necessary to store this kind of information for routine event management. However, in case of a flood police typically do not have enough information about the water coverage, since the system does not allow predictions regarding where the flood will expand to, etc. This information should ideally be obtained from other systems such as fire brigade systems and environment geographic information systems. To solve such problems, ESS will enable the merging of data from different data sources.
  • The cognitive problem is connected to the inability of humans to scan, combine and analyse large amounts of data under threat and stress conditions.

Description of target users and groups

Several organisations, public services and security agencies such as: Emergency and Crisis management organisations, Homeland security agencies, Rescue forces (Red Cross, Fire Department), Law enforcement services, Municipal and regional authorities, Health care services, Environmental care authorities/organizations, Local population and Possibly Private Entities, can benefit from integrating ESS modules into their response plans.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The ESS consortium will join forces to develop a revolutionary crisis communication system that will reliably transmit filtered and pre-organised information streams to the crisis command system, which will provide the relevant information that is actually needed to make critical decisions.

The information streams in ESS will be organised in such a way that they can be easily enhanced by and combined with other available applications and databases (thus enabling the coupling of the ESS system with crisis decision support systems currently under development). The ESS will provide an open API in order to allow any public authority, if needed, to add more applications customised to its particular needs. ESS data, functionalities and data flow will be based on ISO standards or industrial standards. Each commercial application which adopted or will adopt these standards will be able to connect to ESS.

Any abnormal event may register as a sudden change or cumulative changes in one or several mediums which it interacts with (Telecom, Air, Spatial, Acoustic, Visual and more). For example, in an explosion, the affected mediums include: acoustic (“boom” sound), Visual (sudden explosion), and Telecom (sudden increase in traffic).

Therefore, effective control of such an abnormal event means: monitoring each medium independently in real-time, activating an alarm when sudden or cumulative changes in one or more mediums are detected, and when necessary contacting the affected population and providing mass evacuation capabilities. ESS will integrate all these means to one central system, which will enable crisis managers to respond to these challenges.

In order to validate the system it will be tested in three different test fields: a fire in forested area, abnormal event in a crowded stadium and toxic waste dump accidents. Operating ESS under different scenarios is needed in order to test the system’s capabilities in different kinds of crises using a variety of collection tools.

Technology solution

ESS project developed a rapidly deployable and portable platform, which incorporates various sensors and uses external web services from various providers into one operational system for supporting response to emergencies and crisis management allowing the creation of a real-time, common operational picture. The sensors and services include – chemical, weather, fixed ground cameras, airborne cameras, and detection of the signals created by GPS trackers, cellular phones, traffic information, hazards simulation and more. The main ESS development is represented by the “ESS box” which is a rack of servers running the appropriate software for supporting communication with all the distributed components of the system, assigning specific mission to each of these components and perform all necessary data fusion operations.

ESS implements a mesh networking solution for supporting ad hoc sensors networking tasks at the local level and relies on Internet connectivity if available in place or uses an appropriate Satcom solution for bridging the incident scene to the cloud. The information stored or created in real-time on site is displayed through the ESS web-based portal to the system’s users who are represented by the incident commander at the local command post, field actors accessing data through a PDA application, crisis management personnel at the joint command post, administrative people, politicians and other stakeholders being involved in the management of the specific crisis. Although ESS can be linked to legacy systems there are some risk assessment modules including in the system for supporting and demonstrating decision support capabilities. These applications include weather data monitoring, forest fire propagation simulation, traffic information and simulation, toxic plume distribution over the area and area evacuation. 

The system performed a "proof of concept" test in Germany in June 2010 and three large scale full scale field exercises in France in cooperation with end users organisations – one of these tests (April 2012) regards a floods scenario with the planned evacuation of a stadium, the second (June 2012) of a tunnel accident with a chemical spill, and the third (April 2013) of an airplane crash with a large forest fire that crosses from France to Italy.

Technology choice: Proprietary technology, Mainly (or only) open standards, Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

The ESS project will integrate several existing front end data collection technologies into a unique platform. This will include the development of sensors and the requisite accessories that will accompany each sensor. All ESS sensors will comply with the IP/IEC 529 standards and to outdoor use specifications. In order to enable the portable sensor to communicate with the back-office, the porting platform will include a communication component, which will consist of a wireless modem based on WLAN, Wi-MAX or GPRS.

The Data Fusion Mediation System (DFMS) will be centralized system working over ESS database which will be connected to all front end sensors activated in the system. Harmonisation and data fusion experiences show, that sensors from each particular area of interest (for example thermal sensors etc.) use for data storing various data formats and data models. As it is mentioned in objective 1, ESS will be focused on various types of sensors (thermal, video etc.). DFMS will have to solve following tasks: communication between sensors and database; data harmonisation from various sensor products of one type; data fusion of data from various types sensors; spatial data localisation.

The idea behind the ESS portal is to create an efficient synchronisation framework managing the data and information flow between the different public authorities involved in emergency management operations and the crisis managers (Rescue forces, Police, Fire-department, Homeland-security, Municipality, etc.).

The ESS portal will provide the involved actors with a common, uniform and ubiquitous platform for collecting, analysing and sharing real-time data for supporting management decisions. Thus, the ESS result will be a state of the art framework that will integrate:

  • Data collection and information flow between the different authorities and agencies which are involved in the crisis/abnormal events management;
  • Fusion of data from different sources and creation of a unique information space for supporting decisions of emergency and crisis management;
  • A multi-tier architecture of information processing, the result of which will be accessible in a ubiquitous manner by all the actors involved, through the ESS portal. The access to the portal will be secured by means of SSL and VPN encryption along with other security technologies such as firewall and authentication procedures.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Larger than €10,000,000

Track record of sharing

ESS consortium is quite open to communicate the results of the project and the potential of the technological solution that is developed by clustering with other projects, joining relevant initiatives, and contacting stakeholders’ organisations that have an interest for further testing or validating the project results. The close cooperation of the ESS consortium with end-user organizations during the design, development and testing phase of the project has already opened certain communication channels with potential users who joined the field tests of the system and had already hands-on experience in the system’s operation. Videos and movies have been used during the project for advertising the field trials of the project in a way that interested parties can have a comprehensive and self-explanatory material of what the system is and which way it has been tested in the field even after the end of the project.

The last period of the project duration the dissemination activity shall be reinforced as regards sharing the project’s outcome to people interested for the results achieved and their eventual exploitation in the future. The project website will be maintained after the end of the project in order to allow the stakeholders keep tracking of the after-project activity and development of the ESS solution and ensure the possibility of interacting with the ESS team. 

Lessons learnt

Several lessons have been learnt following four years of cooperation among 19 partners from industry, academia and public services stemming from nine different countries. It was made evident that the objectives of participation can be different among different types of organisation and the success in such large workgroups is associated to the motivation of the coordinator organization to come up with a field tested solution for supporting crisis management under almost real and operational conditions.

Thus, the first lesson learnt was that the project success is directly linked to the fact that the coordinator has a clear idea of what the project shall deliver at the end and pushes the consortium, through a critical core group, for achieving this result addressing any failure or divergence from the planned work sometimes at own expenses.

The second lesson learnt from the ESS case refers to the fact that the involvement of active end user organisations in crisis management and security projects can make a great difference to the project results and to the visibility of R&D output. ESS organised four distinct and diverse field test events which allowed the field testing of all the developed systems and components in close cooperation with end users, in particular the Fire Brigades in South France. Working closely with users, training them to the systems use and operation and integrating project’s systems to their planned exercises provided great benefit to the system validation as well as to the users’ familiarization with the ESS development.

The need to consider a framework for interoperable implementation of security technologies in crisis management solutions is the third lesson learned. Interoperability of different systems and components which are included in a complex and modular system of systems such as ESS is a key factor for ensuring smooth integration of new modules, allow effective exchange of data and information and facilitate data fusion at the central node level. Interoperability at the system’ level as well as at the procedures’ level, supported by relevant standardisation, has to be prioritised in context of future crisis and emergency management systems design and development.

Scope: Cross-border, International, Local (city or municipality), National, Pan-European, Regional (sub-national)