Belgium to use COBRA as nationwide crisis management system in 2017

In 2017, Dynamis’ COBRA software solution will be used in the country of Belgium to connect all governmental agencies, hospitals, and high risk companies and contain all relevant information for emergency situations and events. The article below describes the problems Belgium was facing in disasters and emergencies in previous year, and how the implementation of COBRA’s crisis management system will aim to solve these problems.

Please note that the article originally appeared in De Tijd and that the language below is not the official translation.


As of 2017 Belgium will use a nation-wide crisis management system

Author: Lars Bové
August 5, 2016
De Tijd

Non-official translation

Belgium will have a national platform connecting all governmental agencies, hospitals, and high risk companies and containing all relevant information for emergency situations and events. The new system is due to become operational in January.

“The communication could be better,” must have been just about the most important conclusion from all disasters and emergencies that Belgium has experienced in recent years.

From the gas explosion in Ghislenghien, the storm at Pukkelpop, the train and toxic waste disaster in Wetteren to the terrorist attacks of March 22 at Zaventem “Brussels Airport” and Maelbeek Metro Station.

Also in ‘smaller’ crises,’ it remains a challenge to immediately deliver the right information to all possible responding services and authorities – from local and provincial level up to the national level – and to all schools, the Red Cross, security firms, surrounding businesses, and other organizations.

This is why – complementary to ASTRID, the radio and telecommunications system of all Belgian emergency services – a national digital platform is being created via which all authorities, other organization and companies will be able to find information, chat and share information during emergency situations.

This new platform, the “Incident and Crisis Management System”, abbreviated ICMS will already be operational in January, says Peter Mertens, spokesperson for the federal crisis center.

COBRA

The new system is a secure platform that runs on the Internet and will be accessible in four languages (including English), via a standard Internet browser and individual logins. To prevent breakdowns, the data centres in use are located in different electrical black-out zones.

The new software has been in development since the beginning of this year and is based on the successful American COBRA system that has been in use since 2000 for crises in many countries, including Brazil (for the Olympics) today. However, the Belgian variant will contain many new features and working tools that the system will be unique.

The system, for example, has interactive digital maps, that during an incident, can display in real-time which sensitive infrastructure such as schools, gymnasiums and hospitals, are located in the area and what their potential capacity is to serve as an evacuation center.

Uploaded pictures that portray the disaster or toxic smoke plumes can be visualized on these maps, with live situation reports, including weather conditions, to assess the whole situation.

International Systems

The platform will contain the contact information of all users, allow for the creation of secure chat rooms, and can send out automated e-mail messages. A “Ticker” tool can be used to display urgent messages.

Plenty of parties across Belgium will be able to connect to the system, such as utilities, port authorities, Seveso companies working with hazardous substances, hospitals, and security firms.

Even a link to the international EU, UN and NATO systems is possible.

Events

The platform will not only be useful in incidents, but also in ordinary circumstances. For example, it can be used to manage events such as music festivals and sports games.

It can also serve to adjust emergency plans in advance and to organize disaster exercises.

“The system allows us to enter safety perimeters linked to scenarios involving specific incidents involving high risk companies.” says Mertens. “The information in the system allows us to assess the domino effect on all neighbouring facilities.”

All data will be encrypted on the new web platform. Additionally, sensitive information such as the status or identity of the victims in a disaster, will only be accessible to certain individuals.

Test at Rock Werchter

“Will we solve all our potential emergency management problems in one stroke with this new platform? No, but it can improve a lot of things,” says Mertens.

“We already have similar systems, called “OSR”, but those are not in use in all provinces and municipalities. The new platform will be used across the entire country. Another example of progress is that we currently operate in emergency situations with a single multidisciplinary log where all services have to enter their data. In the future we will have mono logs where individual services can communicate in their own logbook – for example, the fire brigade can log its own actions, and then choose to share the information that is useful for sharing multidisciplinary.”

In January, the new platform should already be operational. That is soon, but a big test during Rock Werchter (with 145,000 visitors over the four days) was positively evaluated by all concerned organizations – from the emergency operations centers, hospitals, fire services to the Red Cross, and involved more than 1,100 ‘inputs’ into the system without any breakdowns.

There will be a number of Roadshows in September in all the Belgian provinces to introduce the system; this will be followed by information rounds for all the municipalities.

Mertens: “At the end of this year, training for the key actors are scheduled. Development will continue after the launch in January.”

Some advantages of the new system

  • Accessible via web browser throughout the country
  • One platform for all administrations, from local to national, all organizations, private companies, etc.
  • Available 24/7
  • In four languages (including English)
  • Cartography, with visualization of all the institutions and infrastructure such as schools, and ability to provide smoke plumes on the map.
  • Logbooks accessible to all services or just one particular service
  • Real-time situation reports
  • Storage of all contact information and other data
  • Secure chat rooms
  • Shielding of sensitive data (such as victim identification data)