Eastern European Nations Deploy Incident Command System
Thursday, April 05, 2018 | Comments

The Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS) was implemented in the southeastern European nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro for emergency response.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) developed NICS nearly a decade ago. Through a four-year partnership with the North Atlantic Treat Organization (NATO) Science for Peace and Security Programme, the developers will work with local and federal response agencies in these countries to adapt and enhance NICS for the specific needs of this multinational community.

“We are working with each country to best decide how NICS can be adapted to meet their disaster-response needs and also how NICS can improve communication across country borders,” said Stephanie Foster, a staff member in Lincoln Laboratory’s humanitarian assistance and disaster relief systems group and the program manager for the NICS NATO project. She said NICS will help the countries build a standardized method of response to large-scale disasters, such as the cyclone and ensuing floods that devastated the region in 2014.

Modifications to NICS are building on what staff learned during the NATO Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre’s 17th Consequence Management Field Exercise 24 – 29 September. Close to 1,300 disaster-response personnel from 34 NATO member and partner nations participated in the exercise. Hosted in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the exercise provided the southeastern European disaster teams a first road test of the NICS platform.

For three days, NICS was implemented during water-rescue missions conducted by teams from Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. The exercise began with an initial emergency request received at the base of operations. From there, teams were deployed to the incident site and given instructions to either lead or assist in different scenarios, such as extracting people from a car that had entered a lake, removing barrels of chemicals and assessing the risk, and saving people from cable cars hanging above the water.

“We would get live input from the water-rescue teams that were responding,” Foster said. “They used the mobile app to upload images of the damage and to chat with users at base camp and in the incident command tent.”

The NICS mobile app, a relatively new addition to the system, enabled live tracking of the teams’ locations. Another new feature of NICS was the incorporation of social media analytics. A Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program called LORELEI, a human language technology to provide domain-relevant, essential information from messages written in any language, categorized the social media posts from the exercise by need type — medical, water, or search and rescue — urgency level, location and timeframe.

To get this information to the responders, the team added layers to the NICS interface that showed posts by need type and a color-coded heat map of social media activity around the incident locations. NICS also offers graphical tools, essentially virtual whiteboards, with which users can draw boundaries or circle locations directly on the map. This feature is especially useful for communicating across language barriers.

NATO is looking for more opportunities to implement NICS internationally. Last September 2017, NATO opened a new center in Kuwait City, called the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Regional Center, in which NATO researchers can work closely with Persian Gulf partners on a number of important issues, including disaster response.

Another long-term goal of the NICS NATO partnership is to engage young scientists and engineers in further developing the NICS technology. The vision is to build an active community with the capability to evolve and contribute to the platform’s open-source software, which DHS S&T released worldwide on GitHub last year.

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