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Helping the public help emergency responders

An EU team has developed an information system enabling public participation in emergency response. The new prototype represents the state of the art in crisis management systems.

Digital Economy

During natural or man-made crises, members of the public are often already at the scene and sometimes in large numbers. The public can be a boon for emergency responders, reacting quickly and showing potentially life-saving leadership. Nonetheless, the resource is currently underutilised by emergency services. Against this backdrop, the EU-funded ATHENA project encouraged and assisted ethical public participation in crisis situations using software tools for social media and mobile devices while identifying best practice guidelines. The developed tools enable efficient acquisition, analysis and dissemination of event information. This brings improved security during emergencies and in search and rescue operations. To achieve its aims, the project team identified user groups through consultation with interested parties. The identified users, including emergency responders, were then questioned about their prior experiences with social media. A set of workshops helped define user requirements. The feedback was then incorporated into the design of prototypes. ATHENA also identified the legal and ethical restraints affecting the project, plus the constraints impacting cognition in highly stressful situations. The consortium reviewed the subject literature, yielding a set of best practice guidelines. Project efforts saw delivery of several software prototypes, including crowdsourcing tools, a crisis mapping application and a fully integrated prototype of the mobile application. The team created various testing scenarios, with live tests conducted in collaboration with the West Yorkshire police in the United Kingdom. The final ATHENA prototype introduces several major advances in crisis management systems, including advanced two-way communication and sourced information from the cloud, social media and dedicated app. It also provides cutting-edge visualisations and tools to aid decision-making. Lastly, the development of a framework to manage various information sources and analysis services, plus new security mechanisms and social media interfaces ensure a state-of-the-art prototype. The project’s results and findings have been published in a volume by Springer that specialises in advanced technologies for security applications. The book contains contributions from academia, emergency responders, law enforcement, government and private industry. ATHENA has successfully developed software tools enabling utilisation of a citizen-based emergency resource. The development will mean more effective crisis response.


Emergency responders, public participation, crisis management, ATHENA, social media

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