Europe aims to create an OASIS of resilience

The Defence Academy at Cranfield University is rapidly developing a unique level of expertise in integrating management methodology and technology to reduce the risk of "disruptive challenges"1 to government and corporate business. This methodology is being taught at Cranfield on a range of Masters degree and short courses.

The recently opened Resilience Centre at Cranfield is also developing an underpinning methodology for a major EU disaster and crisis management project known as the Open Advanced System for Improved Crisis Management (OASIS). The OASIS project brings together Cranfield's unique expertise in risk and security management, disaster management, command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems and structural engineering to develop a crisis management architecture applicable to all 25 EU member states. The project is supported by a European consortium, headed by EADS (France) and including companies such as Datamat (Italy), BAE Systems (UK), Ericsson (Sweden) and Thales (France).

Crisis management and the EU

Recent high-profile emergencies in Europe have led to growing public concern and increasing recognition by the European Commission (EC) of the importance of building resilience among EU member states and institutions. These events have included natural disasters such as the floods in the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany; forest fires in Southern France, Spain and Portugal; accidents such as the collapse of terminal 2E of the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris; and the increasing threat of terrorist attacks, clearly demonstrated by the train bombings in Madrid. Such events demonstrate the continued vulnerability of modern societies to a range of hazards and the need for government and regional organisations, such as the EU, to have a coherent crisis management structure.

Recent regional and international experiences of the EU in crisis management have highlighted strengths in response — especially in disaster and humanitarian situations — but have also exposed procedural weaknesses. As a result, three specific areas have been identified as priorities for development: decision making; command and control; and interoperability.

The importance of being interoperable

The prime focus of the OASIS project and related EC framework projects is crisis management, which encompasses two key elements: an effective process for decision making in times of crisis and a set of tools and capabilities.

Crisis management is distinct from early warning, crisis prevention and conflict resolution. To date, the EU's crisis management capability is based on the differing independent national crisis and disaster management policies of its 25 member states. There is also no consistency or commonality in operating procedures or command, control or communications systems. Hence one of the main objectives of the OASIS project is to improve interoperability among EU member states.

In addition to its regional crisis and disaster management responsibilities, 2003 saw the first EU military and policing operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and the Bunia region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.The EU also performs an important crisis management role for the UN and NATO. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe is continuing to work to improve links with the EU in risk management and crisis management. This international role means that consistency of approach and interoperability of systems must cover the EU crisis management framework and facilitate co-operation with broader international disaster response efforts.

The EC is funding a range of programmes, including the OASIS project, aimed at increasing the effectiveness of EU disaster response capabilities and building a common operating crisis management framework. OASIS seeks "to establish a common integrated crisis management system to support the operations of European civil protection organisations in the case of large-scale natural disasters, industrial accidents or threats from terrorism throughout the EU member states".2

In this manner, OASIS will address identified weaknesses in current EU systems to create a common structure for EU disaster management operations, notably by creating a joint command, control, communication and response platform across all member states. The purpose is not so much to reduce the risk of crises and emergencies occurring but to reduce the negative impact of their occurrence.

The OASIS initiative will be funded for four years. The central objective of the project is the improvement of risk management, with the aim of producing a preliminary version of a common EU information and communication technology system for civil crisis management.

The OASIS scheme will explore possibilities for a network of regional EU transnational headquarters with the capability to address one crisis or multiple simultaneous crises. In addition, the project will study the potential for establishing generic decision making processes and policies and shared operational procedures to meet the challenges presented by complex emergencies. To this end, the project will develop a methodology and command-and-control infrastructure that promotes interoperability both across the EU and with other institutions, in particular by using NATO systems of command, control and communication.

The system produced by the OASIS programme is expected to provide a standardised risk management framework and capability adaptable to a broad range of risks and emergencies and informing every stage of the risk cycle from preparedness, assessment, mitigation, response and recovery.

Core requirements for the system include reliability and guaranteed accessibility as any loss of access to crisis management systems during an emergency can be devastating. The system is required to be effective to reduce time of initial response to an incident to an absolute minimum. It also should be flexible to maximise interoperability, so it can adapt to a diverse and unpredictable set of circumstances involved in a disaster when priorities and requirements change both quickly and dramatically.

Cranfield University, in close partnership with the software development company Office Shadow, has developed an open architecture software platform called Shadow Planner, which will support the work of the OASIS initiatives as well as being an aid to training and education. This software system is also being used by students on Cranfield courses to assist them in developing their own risk management and business continuity plans.

The OASIS project intends to make best use of the breadth of diverse experience in dealing with disasters and crises from across Europe.

To that end, Cranfield University will be organising user groups representing the requirements of all 25 member states. These groups will feed into a strategy group, which will decide on the methodology, procedures and technology to be employed. The challenge is to find a way that will reinforce the decision making processes and technical and information-based capabilities towards the creation of a coherent European crisis management system.

European crisis management capabilities are still evolving. OASIS and many other related EC projects will make a significant contribution to improving the ability of the EU to respond effectively to large-scale emergencies, as well as strengthening the EU's ability to co-operate effectively in the face of "disruptive challenges".

Ivar Hellberg OBE FRGS is director of resilience and defence diplomacy initiatives at RMCS Cranfield

Katherine Stone is a researcher at the Resilience Centre at Cranfield University

1 Civil Contingencies Bill 2003, p3

2 European Commission Call FP6 - 2003 - IST - Priority 11 "OASIS" Integrated project, 15 October 2003, p4/116

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