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Predictive tools could help rescue workers contain disasters

EU-funded researchers have tested new software tools designed to help rescue services limit and contain the possible knock-on effects of disasters.

The software, developed by the EU-funded PREDICT project, has been designed to be capable of foreseeing and predicting the possible ‘cascade effects’ of a disaster. By simulating the evolution of possible impacts stemming from, say, a catastrophic flood or storm surge on industries and public services such as transport, decision makers are in a better position to take effective action quickly and to respond to prevent a domino effect. Potential end users of this new software range from crisis management teams at the national and local level to sectors susceptible to natural disasters such transport, telecommunications, energy and the water supply. Since the three year project was launched in April 2014, a total of five workshops have been organised while the project team has engaged with over 60 experts from over 30 organisations. Three recent trials, which took place in the Netherlands and Finland and on the Belgian-German border, enabled the PREDICT project team to apply their innovative new software in real life crisis scenarios and provide potential end users with the opportunity to test, validate and provide feedback on the applicability and functionality of the software. The first trial tested the software’s effectiveness in dealing with a serious a dike breach in a vulnerable area of the Netherlands, between two main rivers in the Rhine-Maas delta region. In the simulation, the breach led to a failure of the small dams lying directly behind the dike, threatening flooding in several cities, railways and motorways over seven days. An end-user workshop to discuss outcomes was held in Dordrecht on 15 October 2015. The second scenario involved a train derailment at the Belgian-German border in which two tanks loaded with liquid gas ignited causing a toxic chemical cloud to drift towards populated areas, while the third disaster scenario was a maritime incident in Finland involving a hazardous chemical leak. End-user workshops were again organised for each scenario. All three scenarios have helped to underline the wide potential application of the software in ensuring that a variety of possible disaster scenarios do not spiral out of control. The market for predictive disaster management tools is likely to increase as policy makers look to achieve greater response coordination. For example, the Commission recently launched a new in-house centre to help EU Member States respond to emergencies, and prevent and reduce the impact of disasters. Among its activities, the Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre will offer EU countries technical and scientific advice on their risk assessment methodologies. For the remainder of the project the team aims to set up a common framework on preventing or mitigating cascading effects, which will then be applied in selected cases agreed with end-users to ensure that the technology meets the needs of crisis management organisations. The PREDICT project is due for completion in March 2017. For further information, please visit: PREDICT project website

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