|Article Title: Improving Civil Protection activities through Common Operational Picture|
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Improving Civil Protection activities through Common Operational Picture (COP)
Sharing geographical information via web for Civil Protection activities
The ability of sharing structured and punctual geographic information is crucial to the resilience of a system, for it allows to provide a pragmatic visualization of an abstract concept such as our territory. With geographical maps, Civil Protection models become more accessible and shared within the Integrated System.
To guarantee the same quality of information, every actor involved in the command and control chain is supported by a computerized tool called Common Operational Picture, COP.
Thanks to the latest Web GIS techniques many pieces of information such as assets, vulnerability or risk levels will be easily accessible to the different components within the Regional System of Civil Protection.
Being able to display geographic information in an emergency plan is crucial for the elaboration of planning phases and models.
The schematic visualization involves every available map, such as hazard or dynamic maps coming directly from disparate sensors, and is implemented with advanced analysis and report functionalities: this combination provides comprehensive awareness and control of the actual situation, both operative and territorial, called Situational Awareness.
The aim of this white paper is to describe in a brief and clear way how GIS is a fundamental technology for communicating and sharing geographical information online during the activities of Civil Protection and Public Safety, both in ordinary and emergency situation. It will also discuss how to obtain a better control on territory issues thanks to a browser-based, easy-to-use application rich in graphic contents.
WHAT IS GIS
Civil Protection activities are all about the processes of gathering, managing and analysing geographic information. Nowadays, both on national and international level, GIS is an extremely useful technology in Civil Protection activities, in order to respond effectively to every kind of events at every level of emergency.
Even in situations of ordinary criticality (that means absence of critical situation), for example during the planning phase, the emergency management plans are developed and implemented through a punctual analysis of the available information, which is mostly made up of geospatial data.
Definition In Geographic Information Science there is no unambiguous definition for GIS, although we can quote one of the most common, by Stanley Aronoff, that describes GIS as a SYSTEM DEVELOPED FOR GATHERING, STORING AND ANALYSING OBJECTS AND PHENOMENA WHERE GEOGRAPHIC LOCALIZATION IS AN IMPORTANT OR CRUCIAL FEATURE FOR THEIR ANALYSIS.
Almost every existing definition highlights the peculiar feature of GIS being an “information system” for handling “geographic data”. For this reason GIS can be defined also as a COMBINATION OF CONNECTED AGENCIES WHICH INTERACT FOR A COMMON PURPOSE (SYSTEM) THROUGH A SET OF METHODS SUPPORTING THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS (INFORMATION) ON GEOREFERENCED INFORMATION , I.E. THAT CAN BE RELATED TO A DETERMINED PORTION OR POSITION ON THE TERRITORY (GEOGRAPHIC DATA).
GEOGRAPHIC COMMUNICATION AND SHARING
In a not so remote past, geographic communication worked differently. To get a complete picture of the evolving situation in a given place and time, the information needs had to be defined first, and then fulfilled by searching the printed material, datasets, web links, media and oral communication. All these actions were carried out separately, at the expense of effectiveness both on operational and evaluative level in ordinary conditions.
Which road has been closed due to a landslide? Are there any damaged critical infrastructures? Is that mitigation effort appropriate in a certain place? Is it possible to place a waiting area in that place? Few years ago this kind of questions required long evaluation times, and often implied errors caused by lack of punctual information.
During the last years the emergency management process has become more complex to face the new threats, more frequent and on a large scale, in an efficient and effective way, including issues of Public Safety such as terrorism. The need to plan, prevent and reduce the consequences of a disaster is now stronger than ever.
Common Operational Picture (COP) During a crisis situation, all the people involved in the command and control chain are supported by a computerized tool, called COP, that guarantees the same quality of information. The term was coined in a military context, from the need to share relevant operational information among all units.
The schematic visualization of every available map, such as hazard or dynamic maps coming directly from disparate sensors, provides comprehensive awareness and control of the actual situation, both operative and territorial, called Situational Awareness.
Situational Awareness Defines a human mental process allowing to know and understand what is happening in order to predict how information, events and actions could affect on a mission goals both in the present and in the near future.
As well as the Common Operational Picture, the concept of Situational Awareness was born in the military field, defining the capability of perceiving environmental elements in a given space and time, understanding their meaning and predicting how they will evolve with time.
Lack or incompleteness of Situational Awareness is one of the main reasons behind accidents due to human error. Hence, a good level of awareness is decisive in those fields where the information flow is high and a wrong decision can lead to severe consequences.
Comprehensive and updated Situational Awareness is essential during the decision-making process, especially in Civil Protection critical situations. For this reason is a vital element, though sometimes elusive, for good decision-making processes, such as the emergency management, that involve a range of dynamic systems.
Importance of COP Reaching Situational Awareness in an EOC (Emergency Operation Centre) is essential to understand events, accidents and their future evolution, in order to prevent, respond and manage real or potential emergencies. Here the Common Operational Picture steps in as instrument of a Geographic Information System: the easy access to the planning information provided by the COP is the key for a fully operative planning phase.
COP thus enhances Situational Awareness thanks to its main functionalities:
• Mapping every geographic information on hazard and exposed elements
• Checking and describing the state of events in terms of criticality
• Identifying and mapping the position and shape of an event (dot, line or polygon)
• Spatial and temporal analysis of the territory, searching for:
o High risk areas
o Emergency Operation Centres on site
o Citizen assistance areas
o Storehouses and depots
o Supply points
o Transport infrastructures
o Medical emergency structures
• Managing and describing available assets using SRD - Data Gathering Systems, both locally and in confining administrations
• Processing and displaying models concerning weather conditions, fires, floods, plumes, etc.
• Developing worst-case scenario models, assessing consequences and damage caused by a disaster
• Determining alternate transportation routes (the roads that can be left open and the ones that must be closed) based on the perimeter of the affected area or the presence of plumes
• Visualizing the location of assets using GPS tracking functions
• Displaying and printing geographic information relating to the local emergency planning
• Creating graphic reports
COP and the disaster cycle The incident commander is responsible for coordinating actions amongst multiple Organizations or Agencies during the phases of what is commonly known as “disaster cycle”. The use of the term cycle defines the repetitiveness associated to a catastrophic event. The above mentioned phases are the following: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. The first two phases take place before an event occurs, the other two start immediately after.
Each passage has its specific needs and likewise requires specific activities defined in ad-hoc planning.
This phase includes those activities that aim to reduce the vulnerability of a territory in respect to a future disaster. It is possible to outline structural activities, such as seismic strengthening of buildings or creation of flood expansion areas, and non – structural activities, such as elaboration of land use plans, emergency plans, and shaping of specific rules and/or policies focused on risk reduction.
An intuitive and easy-to-use tool for sharing geographic information is crucial during mitigation actions, especially for planning activities within the Civil Protection Integrated System.
GIS technology allows to map and analyse every kind of hazard, displaying in particular their potential impact. It enables to distinguish whether a hazard could affect critical infrastructures or houses, and with COP graphic interface it is possible to observe, simulate and understand the actual level of vulnerability. In addition, COP allows to prioritize actions for mitigation phase through the observation and use of every available computer tool.
With GIS technology any Agency can acquire the ability to enhance the planning and analysis process as follows:
• Identifying and mapping natural, technological and man-made hazards along with their level of criticality
• Identifying and mapping exposed elements (population, schools, hospitals, etc.) and their level of vulnerability
• Identifying values at risk within the areas affected by a natural or man-made disaster
• Developing mitigation strategies focused on territory to minimize loss; mitigating means anticipating an emergency, reducing the probability of disaster occurrence, or minimizing the effects of inevitable events.
The use of GIS outlines the priorities for the development of mitigation plans. The System helps evaluating and simulating alternative strategies, and determining the best approach to protect critical areas from significant losses, both in terms of victims and, more generally, in terms of vulnerability of the whole human society.
It defines the entire set of measures aiming to reduce the effects of an expected and imminent disaster, such as strengthening critical river banks with sand sacks or evacuating people from flood-prone areas if critical level is reached.
Starting from preparedness, the use of COP becomes crucial as support of the command and control chain during the emergency management, thanks to:
• Selection of evacuation areas, considering position and extension of the affected area
• Selection and developing of evacuation paths
• Identification and mapping of strategic structures
• Training and emergency exercises to test preparedness
• Essential skills for the command and control chain that facilitate the emergency management and enhance Situational Awareness
Excellent preparedness depends on the management of huge amounts of information: when a disaster occurs the right information must be sent at the right place and time, to help decision-makers in emergency situations.
It is the first phase of the disaster cycle, that starts together with the event and ends when the post-emergency degree is reached. Every action during the emergency response is focused on maintaining life and assisting people.
Seconds after the disaster strikes, COP expedites the mobilization of emergency resources and services, assisting first rescue activities during this extremely critical situation.
Other vital functions are those of acquiring, managing and maintaining the status of disparate resources; COP supports emergency response as follows:
• Providing public warnings and reports regarding forthcoming or evolving emergencies, areas at risk or already affected. The surrounding areas can be identified on a map and alerted through GIS
• Activating citizens assistance areas depending on the location of the event and determining the safest way to reach them
• Identifying location and potential of existing resources and operative structures (Fire Department, local Police, Volunteering, etc.)
• Gathering and sharing information with every actor in the command and control chain for real time decision-making and support incident operations
• Sharing information and risk models with disparate Agencies
• Constantly displaying status and evolution of the ongoing event
• Facilitating damage assessment analysis
The last step includes those activities focused on restoring social and economic life in the affected areas. COP provides a strong support to recovery activities, since it offers a data archive for damage and loss assessment, allowing:
• The identification of damage and elaboration of damage reports for inspection
• The overall assessment of critical infrastructures, determining short-terms actions regarding:
o Health care and first rescue
o Need for additional shelter areas
o Optimal location for public assistance centres
o Optimal location for government operations if government buildings are damaged
o Alternate transportation routes to assure continuity of operations
o Monitoring progress of recovery efforts in specific areas, for both long-terms and short-term needs
o Publishing maps to share information to public and government agencies concerning progress of recovery objectives
GIS technology solutions are fundamental for reaching comprehensive Situational Awareness in Civil Protection and Public Safety activities. Geospatial data are key elements to understand the dynamics in a potential emergency situation, both ongoing or already ended. Furthermore, when GIS technology is applied in a Situational Awareness context, it adds benefits in terms of:
• Improved preparedness
• New and essential knowledge
• Enhanced safety procedures
• Emergency management
• Improved recovery efforts
This is why is fundamental to understand potential damage associated to a hypothetical or actual event. Thus, Public Safety officers can achieve better preparedness thanks to action plans, and emergency managers can determine the right strategies to manage the situation.
COP is a flexible, scalable component of GIS enabling to create actionable information with spatial data and sophisticated functionalities that combine dynamic data from disparate sources. The whole system significantly enhances Situational Awareness within Civil Protection.
GIS is one of the elements enhancing Situational Awareness since provides data visualization when and where is needed, to effectively manage the emergency at any level.