Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is involved in a "cutting edge" scheme to help integrate Europe's diverse emergency response systems by making information instantly available to fire, police and ambulance control rooms.
Fire officers and control room staff from Shrewsbury HQ joined a 60 strong fire, police and ambulance contingent from across the EU to trial a state of the art computer software system designed for cross border management of disasters.
Exercise Oasis is a four year EU sponsored programme which has seen industry, academia and research institutions join with the emergency services to find solutions to interoperability across Europe and the UK. It is being heralded as the foundation to a European Emergency Response system.
"Disasters do not respect borders and often have trans-boundary consequences. There is little or no time to develop co-ordinated action plans yet emergency services are expected to work in a synchronised and effective way to protect the population," said an Oasis spokesman.
The new project aims to help the emergency services share information cutting across language barriers and diverse communication systems so that they can work together on floods, fires, earthquakes and other disasters.
Control room operators Madeline Maisey and Paul Cheshire during the Shropshire trial
Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service first joined the innovative programme at its first meeting held at the Defence Capability Centre at Shrivenham, near Swindon, to trial the prototype software nearly 2 years ago. On this occasion three officers from Shrewsbury joined with ambulance and police officers to test the software's ability to allow them to quickly swap information among all three emergency services in a disaster scenario.
A number of different "crisis management" situations have been simulated to test the Oasis computer software including a UK chemical plant explosion in which a toxic plume crosses the Channel heading for northern France, involving population evacuations and environmental damage.
A second Shropshire trial in April 2008 demonstrated cross service interoperability at a series of simulated road traffic incidents in which initial inaccurate accident details were corrected and quickly shared among the emergency services leading to vitally important time savings.
Another trial at Bristol inside a concrete bunker saw firefighters simulating a search and rescue through smoke and noise to test the Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) and its capabilities to relay real time footage using a noise reducing earpiece with voice recognition system.
Further trials were held in a remote area of Romania in May where information on a flooding disaster was broadcast from a mobile unit via satellite to organise the emergency response using the Oasis system.
Another exercise was held in the Czech Republic in June involving a major flood â€“ the most probable crisis for the country.
In the Shropshire trials there were five traffic scenarios culminating in a "complex" incident in which a car thief and five others suffered burns when the car crashed into a bus stop. The crash triggered off major public order incidents in which houses were set on fire and an ambulance stoned with a near riot developing.
Emergency services swap information instantly via Oasis
Fire, ambulance and police control operators linked information about the developing incidents via computer as silver command across all three services accessed the information remotely from home to get an over view and successfully resolve the crisis.
Shrewsbury control room operator Madeline Maisey said: "In reality we would have saved a life."
Colleague Alex Wakeley said: "Having the information via Oasis meant that we didn't have to phone around to find out information from ambulance and police, so it was a great help."
Fire Control Manager Steve Jones said: "The concept is very good. We see the opportunities for data sharing with other emergency services."
Shrewsbury control room operator Paul Cheshire said they were effective and meaningful trials.
"Major factors in the appeal of the new software was its user friendliness and the configurability of the system.
"It was also nice to be asked for our opinions on how to make the new system more effective rather than being presented with a fait accompli designed by non users and being told to make it work."
Area Manager Jim Cameron, head of Fire Control and Convergence at Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, said the Oasis programme could well be the face of future crisis management systems if it gets full EU financial backing.
"We do lose precious minutes in communicating with other emergency services. With this new programme, information sharing is instant, not only among emergency services in the UK but with our colleagues across Europe.
"It allows us to communicate using predefined codes so that everyone knows or has access to what is going on despite language differences. It is a truly remarkable system."
"Having been involved 2 years ago in the first trials it is great to see the progress that the OASIS team have made - “ I would compare it to a home computer last time we had an early version of Windows 3.1 now we are moving onto a much more useable version of Windows XP, and who knows what could be achieved with further development."
Alan Cullen, of BAE Systems, said that the "goal" of Oasis was to increase the operators' situation awareness so that they were better equipped to make the right decisions.
A final trial will take place at Versailles near Paris in October.
Graphic images showing: Co-operation between emergency services in Europe is currently hindered by different technology, language and physical borders. Oasis means that information and resources can be shared between civil protection agencies throughout Europe.
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