The European research project PROACTIVE (PReparedness against CBRNE threats through cOmmon Approaches between security praCTItioners and the VulnerablE civil society) hosted a webinar dedicated to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis last week, on 30 April 2020. The event started at 14:00 and ended at 16:45 CET. The webinar aimed to share and discuss ongoing responses against Covid-19 via short presentations given by practitioners from the PROACTIVE network.
84 participants from 23 different countries attended the online event (including 14 EU Member States): Afghanistan, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lebanon, Montenegro, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UK, and Ukraine.
From the 84 participants only 25 were consortium members. The rest of 59 attendees were members of the project Practitioners Stakeholder Advisory Board (PSAB) and Civil Society Advisory Board (CSAB), covering the project’s main target groups: Law Enforcement Agencies (local and national LEAs), firefighters, medical responders, military, rail security experts, research/academia, and representatives of vulnerable groups such as persons with autism, with Alzheimer, and the blind or partially sighted.
In total there were 23 speakers from: the PROACTIVE consortium, Practitioner Stakeholder Advisory Board (PSAB) members, Civil Society Advisory Board (CSAB) members, as well representatives from five other EU-funded projects.
The webinar was opened by Grigore Havarneanu (UIC Senior Research Advisor and PROACTIVE Project Coordinator). He welcomed all participants on behalf of the consortium and gave a quick introduction about the project, which is now starting its second year. Then, he reminded the participants about the scope and structure of the webinar, which was organised in three parts, each composed of five-minute presentations and followed by a Q&A session.
The first session focused on PROACTIVE Consortium Partners’ Responses to Covid-19 and included eight presentations:
- An Garda Síochána – National Police Force Ireland (AGS) presented “A Policing Perspective from Ireland” and the key message was that the main goal of the police right now is to help the health service.
- State Police of Latvia (SPL) discussed the “Covid-19 in Latvia viewed by the Operational Command Bureau” and the key message was that they are putting in lots of effort to check up on Covid+ cases, including the implementation of WhatsApp communication.
- State Emergency Service of Ukraine (SESU) presented the role of SESU in combating Covid19 in Ukraine and abroad, including the transfer of patients across the border.
- Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt (FFI) presented FFI’s role in Norway during the Covid-19 crisis from a military research and anthropological perspective. The FFI research establishment in collaboration with Norwegian technology companies provided ventilators for hospitals. They are also conducting research on equipment such as face masks and respirators and contribute to knowledge support and counselling in areas such as disinfection, sampling, analysis as well as design of technical prototypes.
- Public Health England (PHE) illustrated the role of PHE in the fight against Covid-19, pointing out that the general public’s response to crisis like Covid-19 and other CBRNe events is altruism, and people rarely “panic.”
- Laura Petersen (UIC) presented the UIC Covid-19 Task Force and Guidance for railway stakeholders. She explained that railways have demonstrated true resilience in responding to this crisis, and UIC has published two guidance documents to help them implement potential measures to combat Covid-19.
- Rinisoft Ltd (RINI) explained how the PROACTIVE Web platform could be further adapted to Covid19 and similar crises though the modular and portable PRIME-IoT technology (Wireless patient monitoring system) which was presented for the first time.
- Save the Children Italy (represented by Ms Flaminia Cordani, PROACTIVE CSAB member) gave an update from Italy illustrating current challenges of the educational process during lockdown: one issue that Save the Children has been focusing on is education access since many children in Italy do not have internet access and as such cannot follow online courses, which has been the norm in many countries since lockdown.
The second session focused on EU CBRNe projects’ perspectives on Covid-19 illustrating PROACTIVE’s synergies with several other projects working on the CBRNe security topic (three ongoing projects and two past projects). The session included five presentations:
- Ms Eulalie Groosman presented the BULLSEYE project. BULLSEYE (A harmonised response to chemical and biological terrorism – ISFP) focuses on explosive detection dogs and the harmonisation of procedures related there to. Since the Covid-19 crisis, many project partners have been directly implicated in crisis response and as such they have postponed many of their workshops and training sessions, and instead are focusing on more administrative work.
- Ms. Rachele Brancaleoni presented both the NO-FEAR project & the Covid-19 situation in the Gemelli hospital, Italy, where she works. The NO-FEAR project (Network Of practitioners For Emergency medicAl systems and cRitical care – H2020 CSA) brings together a network of emergency medical care practitioners, suppliers, decision and policy makers, and they have recently been hosting many webinars focused on the medical response to Covid-19. At her hospital, they have had to deal with two main vulnerable groups when it comes to potential Covid-19 cases: pregnant women and persons on dialysis, as the Gemelli hospital is renowned for caring for these types of patients. As with other patients, there are two paths: one for Covid+ patients and one for Covid- patients. A happy note was the birth of Noah on 26.03.2020 from a Covid+ mom, both of whom are doing well. Welcome, Noah!
- Mr Andrea D’Angelo presented the CBRN Protection of Critical infrastructure in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon project (EU CBRN Centers of Excellence Project 73), focusing on how their efforts in Lebanon have been impacted by Covid-19. The project has purchased materials, such as face shields, plexiglass walls, hand sanitizer, thermometers and masks and trained the responders on the ground to identify and take in charge suspected cases.
- Ms Irina Marsh presented one of the outcomes from the EDEN project (End-user driven DEmo for cbrNE – FP7): A crisis communication handbook for CBRNE incident responders. The handbook aims to provide guidance on communication strategies when responding to a crisis involving CBRNE material and to support those responsible for disseminating information to the public, working in local and national crisis organisations. The guide also has a chapter dedicated to vulnerable groups.
- Mr José Luis Pérez Díaz presented project COUNTERFOG (Device for large scale fog decontamination – FP7) and used a set of videos to show the innovative solution developed during the project. Counterfog is able to clean chemical, biological, radiological, smoke and dust pollution both from air and surfaces using an artificially created fog with virus-size disinfecting droplets. It can remove and disinfect air-borne biological agents both indoors and outdoors.
The second session focused on PROACTIVE Advisory Board Members Responses to Covid-19 and included nine presentations:
- Mr Adolph Eid shared a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) he helped the Lebanese Red Cross First Responders establish for autistic individuals who underwent PCR tests. An example of the modified SOP was having the first responders wear transparent covers so that they do not look so foreign, and also to avoid the use of sirens in the ambulance.
- Ms Katarina Bigovic from Union of the Blind of Montenegro talked about the importance of inclusive crisis communication and the work they undertook to make sure the Covid-19 websites of the Montenegrin government were compatible with text-to-speech applications, so that the information was accessible to the blind and partially sighted for example.
- Mr Jose Javier Vilarin from Ertzaintza (Basque Police) described how the police have been contributing to the health sector, by accompanying medical staff in their home visits, performing disinfection, assisting in search and rescue, and last but not least supporting and helping citizens.
- Ms Evangelia Petridou presented the Mid Sweden University’s Response to the Pandemic, which included clear instructions on the web site in Swedish and in English as well as emails from department head, online teaching and meetings, travel moratorium (even between campuses), full support for faculty members and staff to work from home and a phased re-start of operations in the fall semester.
- Mr Geert Burick gave a presentation on behalf of the Brussels Fire Department. He explained that their involvement was quite difficult at the beginning of the crisis. Social distancing has been implemented at the fire brigade and PPE is being used in the field. They have set up decontamination lines to assist in decontaminating ambulances. He also pointed out that since there are 34 different fire and rescue services in Belgium, there are 34 different ways of dealing with Covid-19.
- Mr Josu García gave a presentation on behalf of the Police of Donostia-San Sebastián. He highlighted some the most relevant preventive measures taken at the LEA level: people traffic control, vehicle traffic and public transport control, provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for police officers, adaptation of crisis management rooms, adaptation for the command and coordination centre, restriction of access to the police station, cleaning and disinfection of the police station and vehicles, definition of work procedures for action with infected people, arrested, etc., support to other organisations.
- Mr Chaim Rafalowski from MDA (Maguen David Adom) explained the main activities that MDA is undertaking: developing a joint call centre between MDA, Primary Health and Public Health to triage calls of “suspected exposures” (25 000 call per day), transporting positive cases and people under Home – Quarantine, taking lab tests and establishing home / Drive through facilities, and also increasing the national blood stockpile.
- Mr Patrick Wengler discussed the policing in Luxembourg during the Covid-19 crisis, illustrating the situation before he crisis, in the early reply stages, and during the outbreak. He explained the three pillars used in Luxembourg: namely the restrictions, the confinements and the legislation aspects.
- Mr Andre Samberg shared a Preliminary Comparative Study on the Covid-19 Decision Making Process in EU Member States. The results suggested that existing national legislations for prevention of epidemic diseases are up-to-date in most EU states and that all national governments were mentally unprepared to face a new kind of biological threat, SARS-Cov-2. Overall, the Covid-19 decision-making process was very slow and depended much on the consolidated positions of leading political parties. Governments did not act promptly independently from the political parties. Each EU state expected the Covid-19 guidelines to come from Brussels first. In the beginning, governments and public health authorities were afraid to take the preventive measures against the SARS-Cov-2 disease.
Discussions, questions and answers
During the webinar a total of 148 comments were written in the chat box. The main debated topic was the mandatory use of face masks by the members of the public, especially in public transport. It was brought up that starting on 4 May, Belgium citizens will be obliged to wear masks on the train, station and platforms. Some other EU countries are also imposing the use of face masks, such as the Czech Republic and many German federal states. However, there is no current European-wide consensus on this issue, as for example Ireland, Finland, Estonia and Greece do not impose such a measure. However, they do recommend it. Beyond the efficacy of the measure and the current regulations, participants debated the role of practitioners for enforcing such measures, especially if people are not wearing them. So far, it seems that the role of enforcing such measures remains with the police and not the railway undertakings or public transport operators.
Some questions and comments concerned the cross-border issue and similarities and differences between neighbouring countries (e.g. Sweden-Norway; Finland-Estonia). The question of how to safely reopen borders to foreign workers was posed (e.g. which measures would need to be put in place), and the importance of information sharing between countries was emphasised.
There were also many comments about the public perception and behavioural response shown by the members of the public. While mainly acknowledging the accuracy of PHE’s presentation demonstrating the public mainly behave pro-socially in a crisis, and in this case follow the confinement rules, others do not. It was suggested that this could be due to economic issues. Participants also brought up the importance of mental health during confinement.
Participants further discussed the importance of having inclusive crisis communication during the pandemic. The Belgian government has been including sign language interpreters in both Dutch and French during their Covid-19 press conferences, in Ukraine sign language interpretation is also present during the daily Health Minister briefings, and in Montenegro all press conferences include sign language. However, more needs to be done to include other vulnerable groups, including the blind and partially sighted, as was shown during the presentation of the Union of the Blind of Montenegro.
Participants also used the chat to express their feedback on the webinar, including comments such as “very entertaining and insightful format of this webinar!”, “warm compliments for the organisation” and “fantastic presentations and really useful info.”
The webinar was closed by the PROACTIVE Project Officer – Laure Guille (REA) who attended the whole event. She noted that the webinar was a very interesting event and appreciated especially the large range of all the different countries that it managed to reach. She underlined that Covid-19 can affect many different fields “like CBRNE, natural hazards and vulnerable society, citizens awareness, etc. so there can be a lot of synergies between different projects”. She appreciated that other projects contributed to the webinar and welcomed further synergies between the various projects today.
Given the very interesting presentations and results, she pointed out that the challenge is now “to see how to best use these results and further promote them”. Given the current Covid-19 situation, there are several initiatives at the REA level but also in other DGs at European Commission level. There are some platforms which are getting developed and for now the EC is interested in finding different projects which could be of interest for deployment of solutions and could help in a way or another in relation to the Covid-19 situation. She added that PROACTIVE will be included in this initiative probably along with other projects that presented at the webinar and further contacts will be made on this matter.
To conclude, Grigore Havarneanu mentioned the next main project activities planned for 2020. Two studies with PSAB members will be running during in May-June based on online surveys and interviews. The project Mid-term Conference and workshop with the CSAB members are planned for 17-18 September 2020 in Brussels. The participants were also encouraged to save the date for the first joint field exercise with project eNotice on 28 October 2020 in Rieti, Italy. At the end, he also reminded that the presentation slides will be shared with participants after the webinar, once all the speakers give their consent, and thanked everyone for attending the webinar.
Project PROACTIVE aims to enhance preparedness against and response to a CBRNe incident through a better harmonisation of procedures between various categories of practitioners, and a better understanding of the needs of vulnerable citizen groups. The PROACTIVE project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 832981.