We are reaching the end of our project. For the last years we have developed a functioning set of tools for emergency responders, launched an app for citizens to be safe from disasters, organised demonstrations across Europe and met with a lot of emergency professionals and people interested in disaster management. So, it’s time to talk about what to expect after I-REACT project is finished, and for this we met with Dr. Fabrizio Dominici, manager at Links Foundation and coordinator of I-REACT.
It’s been two and a half years and we are on the final stretch of the project. What are your impressions?
I-REACT is a successful project. And I’m not just saying this. We have been told so in several occasions, like last December at the Security and Research Event. Several people highlighted that we have come up with a very holistic solution to disaster management. This is really thanks to the approach we took with milestones like the co-design event we organised in Paris. So, after two and a half years we have a very good product that we started from scratch. And this is something we need to be proud of.
Indeed, it has been a very busy two and a half years. What would you say that was the aspect of I-REACT that was specially challenging?
I-REACT fuses together a lot of services and data. Our project wouldn’t have been possible without efforts like Copernicus. Let’s not forget that. Together with historical data from satellites like Meteosat, and a lot of other sources, our Big Data system processes all this flood of incoming information. I-REACT could be seen as the convergence of different solutions. But it’s not just a mere collection of solutions. I-REACT is something really organic, that is able to adapt itself to different situations. Achieving that has been for me the most challenging aspect of I-REACT.
Could you expand a little bit on that?
What we have seen through our demonstrations through Europe is that we have a very fragmented situation when it comes to disaster management. Different regions have different ways of organising themselves for emergency situations. And it’s not just a matter of geographical differences. Different emergency responders —firefighters, 112, local emergency services…— operate in different ways and manage very different systems. And what we have seen in our demos again and again is that I-REACT is able to adapt itself to this changing landscape. It is nice to see that we have created a system that is able to complement the existing tools. So, we are organic and adaptable. Our project was born from a call to improve the resilience of the society, and we ourselves are resilient to the many different situations we have found.
Is there something about I-REACT that you would like to go back and change or that you would have planned different now that we are finishing?
Certainly. We always find situations that were not contemplated at the beginning. One thing that I think we underestimated were the co-design efforts. Co-designing tools are really useful. They allowed us to come up with our good results, but we underestimated a bit the efforts allocated to it. Another thing that I would change… is inherent to working with technology. The technological landscape is always changing. One of our main strengths is Artificial Intelligence: it’s at the very core of our I-REACTOR. Although AI is a big thing nowadays, back when we started in 2016, it was still in its infancy. During the project we saw an amazing growth of Artificial Intelligence, and we started with basic techniques in AI. Thankfully we were able to adapt the project accordingly. But this is not always possible within a European Project. I think that European projects, especially technological ones, would benefit if the European Commission allowed for a little bit more flexibility. Because in a project that stretches for three, four years… What is true at the proposal time may not be true after two years. So the technology is moving quickly and the project must be able to follow.
And after I-REACT, what’s next?
Here I see two different aspects. On one hand, the future of I-REACT itself. On the other hand, the future of disaster management tools in Europe.
Let’s start with the future of I-REACT.
Well, with many European funded projects we talk about research and innovation. In the case of I-REACT, we are an innovation project, meaning that is closer to the market, to be a set of tools that are at the disposal of emergency services. It’s unusual for a project to arrive at the end with a company in place to exploit the results. But we have managed that and we will see I-REACT in the market soon. You will certainly hear more about that in the coming months, and I would certainly like to see more experiences like this in Europe.
And outside of I-REACT?
As I stressed before, one of the main things that we have encountered on our demonstrations is the fragmentation of the emergency management situation around Europe. And I believe that to have a more resilient society we need to reduce this fragmentation. For the future, I see a need to build on top of the results of I-REACT, but also on the excellent results that other European projects such as Anywhere, beAware, E2mC, STORM or Comrades are getting. Every project has its strengths and weaknesses, but I think that the next move should be a push from the policy makers at a European level. A push for the adoption of the results from these projects. Because I have the impression that we jump from one project to another. Projects that have excellent results! But good results need to be finished. And finishing means to go on the market, with a systemic approach. My dream would be to see the results from I-REACT, Anywhere, beAware and all the projects we mentioned earlier put together systematically and adopted. And for that we need the support of the policy-makers that fund our projects. And for that, we need the European Commission to take a more systemic approach to emergency management landscape, to reduce the fragmentation.