Archive for 22 julio 2021

Successful hazard management means a perfect working of the flow of identification – communication – early-warning – early-response – reaction. No flow is possible if the first stages of it are missing: identification, communication, early-warning, and early-response.

It does not matter how many fancy devices, based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, are designed to detect hazards; the best device will always be the human being. It has built-in intelligence and is a natural learner.

We should then aim at putting the citizen in the centre of the flow of identification, communication, early-warning, and early-response.

The population should be able to identify a hazard before it becomes a real risk.  It is necessary to involve the population at large by developing diffusion tools covering specific hazards. Those tools should be deployed geographically according to the hazard which applies to that particular area. For instance, flood dissemination tools should be deployed mainly in Central Europe, while fire dissemination tools would be deployed mainly in the Mediterranean areas. The aim is to make the population aware of the most likely hazard in their area and teach them how to act to minimise risks.

Special attention should be given to X-Events[1], the unknown unknown of an entirely unexpected event suddenly befalling an unsuspecting hapless community. Weak signals, such as the lone wolf terrorist, are difficult to identify using ICT-based systems. A network of “objective antennas” should be in place.  They will be people specially instructed to identify and evaluate threats, similar to those volunteers watching the local weather and acting as a network to provide reliable and valuable information about weather events. Only human “objective antennas” will identify weak signals on the ground and, also as importantly, filter fake news.

Identification is followed by communication. There is no need to encourage the use of social networks; as of 2020 the percentage of active social media users (16-74 years old) in the European Union is 55%[2], with countries like Denmark at 85%. The problem is the reliability of the information, or lack of it. People follow people, as the quick spread of fake news has proved many times.

There are very useful human based systems combating fake news, such as the one carried out by the Virtual Operation Support Team (VOST Europe)[3] association. Their objective is to support emergency services social media accounts, by diffusing their messages, and at the same time combating fake news.

The use of ICT tools should be but a complement to the work of humans if our aim is for effective and efficient hazard management.

[1] The X-Events Index. John Casti. The X-Center, Vienna. http://globalxnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/X-eventsIndex.pdf accessed 17/07/21

[2]https://www.statista.com/statistics/276767/social-network-usage-penetration-of-european-populations/ accessed 13/07/21

[3] https://vosteurope.org/

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It was late July 2003 in the city of Auxerre in Burgundy. Authorities had been warning of very high temperatures for August, exceeding 40ºC during the day and no less than 20ºC at night.

M. Collardelle is in his early seventies. He is a healthy person with no more ailments than the usual for his age. He lives downtown, not far from the river, in a two storey-house with a nice small garden around it. With that setting, M. Collardelle does not worry about temperatures; he knows that the river and the garden will make life a lot more pleasant for him than for those who live in apartment houses on the outskirts of the city.

He had just received a telephone call from his only child who is vacationing in Spain with her husband and kids. They had a nice conversation and, to reassure his daughter, he reminded her that he had fought in the Algerian War, where he had endured much more than those forecasted 40ºC. They said goodbye, with M Collardelle telling his daughter not to call again. They would be back in France on the 15th.

So, the first of August arrived and with it, the dreaded 40ºC. And the second was the same and so forth and so on; and M. Collardelle realized that he was not in his twenties but some 45 years older, and he could not cope with the heat. He just sat in his armchair, with the windows open in hope of some respite, but what came from outside was more heat. He didn’t even have the energy to go to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.

The 15th of August his daughter rang the bell, and as there was no answer, she opened the door and found her lifeless father in his beloved armchair. M. Collardelle had joined the more than 70.000 people who died from the heat wave that summer. 70.000 dead that would never have occurred if proper measures had been in place.

Hazards become real risks when the flow of early-warning-surveillance-preparedness- reaction breaks down for some reason. In the case at hand, it is clear that the early-warning system in place was not enough and that the flow never started; no surveillance, preparedness, or reaction were put in place.

Since 2003 things have improved; the European Climate Adaptation Platform[i] is a good example of how much things have changed. Today most countries have Heat-Health Action Plans to ensure that something like that will never happen again. Nevertheless, most plans focus on the activities that institutions at national, regional, and local levels have to carry out in case of an emergency. The diffusion and communication with citizens is mostly one way, from the institution to the public, at most an open line for people to report back, but with no real engagement or tracing whatsoever.

A comprehensive system for preventing a hazard from becoming a real problem is lacking. To start with, most plans are limited to a specific hazard or to a particular respondent. Very rarely is there a comprehensive focus on a situation that, in many cases, involves the occurrence of various simultaneous hazards.

It is also symptomatic that crisis management is only put in place once the crisis has reached a certain level. Those moments, from the occurrence of the event till the recognition by the relevant authorities that the event is in place, are mostly wasted. In fact, there is a lack of co-responsibility on the part of the citizenry in the response to an event.

[i] http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/about accessed 12.07.21

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