Standardisation PEERS out for practicism – a Horizon Europe Project

Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRN-E) threats are cross-border by nature. Border security forces are working daily to prevent trafficking of materials and precursors from prohibited pesticides to protected species, enforce pandemic travel restrictions and detect radioactive contraband. However, relevant standards, products, services and stakeholders are not always clear initially and practitioners have no hands-on tools to check the CBRN-E landscape and easily learn about developments and changes. A new Horizon Europe project has been launched recently to help practitioners connect with pre-standardisation, standardisation, stakeholders, products and services in this field. A former border guard senior officer is leading one of the participating organisations, ensuring that border security aspects of this issue will not be overlooked.

PracticE Ecosystem for StandaRdS (PEERS) is a Horizon Europe project funded under the call topic CL3-2021-DRS-01-04 – Developing a prioritisation mechanism for research programming in standardisation related to natural hazards and/or CBRN-E sectors.
The team behind PEERS have a great ambition to advance and reinforce the European Union’s operational safety and security policies – connecting the existing defense systems from the ground level to the top. Through a co-creation approach with engaged practitioners and policymakers, PEERS will operate the development of a policy and practitioner-driven ecosystem, which is primarily focused on pre-normative and standardisation processes and supporting innovations and including the Better Practice Guide initiative, which sits in the pre-nominated standardisation space, as well as the co-creation provision of plug in and supporting, educational tools, as part of its initial remit.

European Standards Bodies (such as CEN, CENELEC or ETSI) define and outline standards as documents since their respective establishment time. Naturally these certificates first and foremost are established by consensus and approved by at least one recognised body. These establish perspicuous guidelines, rules, or define distinct characteristics for forms of activities or for their predestined results. Their goal is to achieve a high level of order and discipline in each suitable environment for onefold, common or repeated use.

PEERS believes and preaches that standards should stem from consolidated results of practical and contemporary experience, science, and technology (in this order). If all three factors are met, then we can reach the optimum community benefits. Despite these obvious statements and already existing assumptions, especially over the recent years, the disaster management community has seen increasingly farfetched, unpractical standardisation processes unfolding across the EU. To put further emphasis on the issue of standards, they definitely help the uptake of innovations and new market entrants. However, the matter of standardisation is not generally seen in a positive light either by First Responders or Emergency Medical Services (EMS) operatives. During the course of the ENCIRCLE project, it was reported that operational practitioners in the European Disaster Risk Resilience (DRR) and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) have difficulties when it comes to the subject of standardisation. It was also reported in the ENCIRCLE project that many standards are poor and outdated and that they have little relevance to current capabilities. (Ref: ENCIRCLE Market Survey, 2021). Societal and civilian standards may exist, but they are not necessarily known and/or being applied by those expected to use them. Additionally, there are many non-coordinated pre-standardisation initiatives that have resulted in generating fragmentation and confusion in these areas. An example of fragmentation is highlighted in Table 1.

We live in a time where man-made and natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more dangerous, and more unmanageable to the living flora and fauna, the human population and infrastructure. To protect our future, we must step back and start all over again from the beginning. We must listen to the echo growing louder and louder that this current standardisation mechanism is not seen in a positive light by the community and will not bring us to the era of a more efficient, effective, and flexible disaster management. We have to look out for the current and long-standing security problems e.g., handling of hazardous goods, transport and commerce of dual-use products, consequences of climate and geopolitical climate change and population overgrowth, questionable security framework of biolabs (COVID-19). All these issues listed previously could become more manageable or even preventable with a practical harmonised standardisation system.

Indeed, there is an opinion too that EU research projects do not sufficiently take onboard the existence of established standards and the importance of compliance. Perhaps, the drivers of these deliverables are not the people who should be driving. The first port of call should be to the relevant Technical Committee before the development of a CEN Workshop Agreement (CWA) is sanctioned for production. What we know is that confusion in the area of standardisation exists across the CBRN-E domain in particular. In the citizen and societal security area, this is not warranted. The ENCIRCLE project has taught us much, and fresh-thinking and know-how has been brought to reality through the establishment of the PEERS project, which as mentioned is based on a co-creation approach. We listen, learn, act and further engage so that by the end of the project the final version of the platform within the ecosystem and collectively all components and based on the needs of policy makers and practitioners.

To get on the right track for a better managed future, the PEERS team is relentlessly working on developing a market-oriented ecosystem that involves: disaster resilient related platforms, an e-learning tool, virtual reality tools and a Better Practice Guide mechanism. The PEERS ecosystem will function for the needs of practitioners and policymakers primarily; secondly for improving and keeping building up the system of resilience across EU Member States. With the help of an engaging approach, PEERS considers already existing and ongoing activities in the community and the process of identifying priority needs for the research disaster-resilient society programme.
PEERS kicked off on 1st November 2022 with the mission to respond to the long-standing need both at the international and national levels, to enhance the empowerment and participation of Europe’s disaster risk management community. PEERS aims to serve both sides of DR management practitioners: for natural hazards and CBRN-E and key to the undertaking is the co-creation approach which through pre-alpha designed and developed platform presentations and demonstrations to many such as Space4Security event (Budapest, April 23) and EUROPOL internal event on standardisation (The Hague, June 23) extensivepositive feedback has been obtained not just on the platform but on the ecosystem on whole including the Virtual Reality education component and the emerging Better Practice Guide mechanism.

Furthermore, during the development of the PEERS platform background it is taken into account that the results and insights of the European research policymaking system as well as other stakeholders (e.g., research community, national standardisation bodies in related activities including products and services definitions) to improve the entire ecosystem.

PEERS is envisioned to be co-created with practitioners and policymakers, designed with close collaboration to respond to the disaster management community’s needs, demands, and identify gaps in the system. For PEERS, it is of “utmost importance” when it comes to public safety, security and defense mechanisms, that the team promotes flexible and harmonised operational procedures that are needed by every actor of the system. PEERS contribute to cost savings in terms of production runs, cost management and operational effectiveness.

The PEERS ecosystem aims to strengthen the preparedness and responsiveness in the field of Disaster Risk Resilience and CBRN-E through the experience-focused Better Practice Guide mechanism, gamification, and e-Learning support. The project put an emphasis on building on a comprehensive engagement and consultation governance mechanism that will be applied later for the realisation of the ecosystem.

PEERS does not neglect the usage of already existing platforms, such as the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) and the air quality monitor system (CAMS) to help improve and stabilise the PEERS ecosystem capability for including additional resilience to environmental factors. As mentioned, the PEERS ecosystem will support existing community-building platforms and follow a gamification strategy. The project team hopes to encourage and build a solid user engagement, strengthen interaction-based activities, and train not just the members of the community but any interested party in situational awareness skills and methods.

During the development of PEERS, we have several stages to achieve; milestones to reach. The team behind the project is laying down the foundations for the structured ecosystem via a two step-mechanism. First to implement was a two-way consultation and engagement mechanism. In this process, the team has reached out (and continuously does) to direct and indirect practitioners, relevant policymakers. Parallel to this, a roadmap and related implementation activities are drawn out for visualising effective project outcomes; considering partners’, and products’ and services’ technical, technological, semantic, and operational needs, the team will dutifully collect and organise the incoming inputs, following the filtering, this data will be synthesised to advance the PEERS ecosystem. PEERS aims to highlight their partners’ priorities according to the degree of maturity, emergency, and effectiveness of expected impact.

PEERS goal during and after its development phase, is to consolidate Europe’s highly and counterproductively fragmented disaster risk management community and system through the introduction of this ecosystem. Our team drew the conclusions from the so-called predecessor projects, such as: STAIR4SECURITY; learnt from the hard-earned lessons. Furthermore, with due respect PEERS will build on from the DRIVER+, Community of Practice (CMINE platform) and the ongoing Better Practice Guide initiative devised in NO-FEAR. The execution of this work will be done by uniting the existing networks of natural hazard and CBRN-E experts (including the standardisation bodies) with a community serving vision, joint and forward strategy under the umbrella of a shared brand name.

The team behind PEERS is committed to pave the way to proactively engage with the disaster risk resilience and CBRN-E community. The final aim is to build a policymaker and practitioner needs and empowerment roadmap, effectively supporting an efficient definition of medium- and long-term research and innovation.

PEERS’ developers endorse the need to provide immediate access to the developed ecosystem to relevant and interested stakeholders across the disaster resilient society, promoting usage of the platform’s acquired knowledge in standardisation to further exploit their own business outcomes as well as supporting the identification of the gaps in the system.

In a nutshell, PEERS aims to resurge interest in standardisation to implement better policies at the national and European levels. With involving the community too in the process their capability of resilience to environmental disasters, pandemics, and other natural or CBRN-E threats can be strengthened. The co-creation engagement approach built by PEERS will serve the purpose to discourage people to work in silos and contribute to a revolution for which practitioners will be empowered to actively participate in the development of processes that are needed by them, at low cost.

The PEERS project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under the Grant Agreement No. 101074040. Views and opinions expressed in this article are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Research Executive Agency of the European Commission. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.