EU-funded technology helps disaster workers save lives

Published: 22 July 2010 y., Thursday

WORKPAD, an EU-funded ICT research project, has developed software applications that allow emergency teams responding to natural disasters to coordinate and communicate with each other quickly and efficiently, helping to save more lives. Coordination and communication is especially important when emergency teams from many different agencies, civil authorities and NGOs are on the ground at the same time. €1.85 million of EU funding helped the researchers to explore how dozens of databases from different organisations can be linked via peer-to-peer technology to improve response time and avoid duplication of efforts. One central dispatch point that receives and sends out information to all emergency teams can help save more lives in a quick and efficient way. The technology has already been tried successfully in Southern Italy and is available to be used anywhere in the world.

Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said: "When an earthquake, forest fire or flood hits, we need to deploy all our available resources to save as many lives as possible and to provide urgent rescue services. EU research funds have helped to develop a great ICT tool that makes emergency response even better and faster. This is how research and innovation can help to build the Digital Agenda for Europe."

After an earthquake people trapped in collapsed buildings need to be reached as quickly as possible to increase their chance of survival. How do different emergency teams coordinate their efforts and avoid sending too many relief helpers to one place and too few to another? The key to optimise disaster response is to link the different back-office systems and databases used by emergency systems to ensure that all organisations have the full picture.

The WORKPAD research project – funded by the EU - developed a network that can link those different back-office systems. Then, via a central coordination and dispatch point, front line helpers can communicate with each other through their handheld devices (mostly personal digital assistants - PDAs). For instance, through geo-tagging, team leaders can keep track of the location of all their team members so they know where relief workers are at all times and the tasks they are carrying out. The information exchanged over this network via peer-to-peer (P2P) technology can also include details such as the names of people living in a collapsed apartment building, school class lists, telephone records, maps and other relevant information. WORKPAD has also developed software that can define tasks, assign roles, and provide step-by-step instructions to rescue workers. It can be updated in real time, so if a more urgent need arises, workers can be called to a new task.

The research results of WORKPAD have been successfully tested in Southern Italy, a region which suffers every year from forest fires, and sometimes earthquakes, that require emergency responses. The technology developed by WORKPAD is ready for use. The Czech Republic and the Italian region of Calabria are considering deploying it.


From 2006 to 2009 researchers from universities in Italy and Austria, small and medium enterprises from the Czech Republic and Spain, IT companies and the Italian region of Calabria worked on the WORKPAD project.

The research project has developed instantly deployable information and communication technologies that improve the level of disaster response coordination among diverse teams. €1.85 million of the total cost of € 3.16 million was financed under the Commission's research funding programme (Sixth Framework Programme 2001-2006).


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