The CHORIST Project has benefited from a strong User Advisory Board (UAB) led by consortium members BAPCO and EENA, representing respectively, the professional users of the emergency services and the citizens themselves through the local, regional and national governments and authorities.
The role of the UAB was three-fold:
- To provide guidance, professional knowledge and a discussion forum for specific topics as required by the other elements of the Project;
- To develop and provide user requirements on which the Project development would be based;
- To be active in the areas of information dissemination, impacts analysis and perspective assessment.
In effect, the UAB would provide the user / citizen interface to the technical elements of the project. Their initial objectives were to provide a broad spread of operational experience and citizen representation and at the same time to raise both awareness and interest in this and other European projects within these two key communities.
With the passage of time, it became more difficult than originally anticipated to attract high levels of interest in the project from users: it is felt that this was largely due to the fact that CHORIST is a proof-of-concept and therefore its benefits would be unlikely to be available in the short-to-medium term. The focus of the UAB shifted from trying the establishment of a large group to the use of the BAPCO and EENA networks and the inclusion of specialists where required (for example in the development of the chemical incident scenario).
Contact was also made either through personal visits or by electronic means with a range of public safety organisations throughout Europe to ensure that as wide a consultation process as possible was carried out.
One of the principal roles of the UAB was to develop an operationally realistic set of scenarios and overall story-line which encompassed the three agreed sets of circumstances: high winds; a flash-flood; and a chemical incident. It is important to note that, particularly in a proof-of-concept, scenarios should be operational ones, validated by the technical community as opposed to technical scenarios validated by the users.
The UAB and the technical trials
UAB members, together with their colleagues in the Catalonia (Spain) fire services and civil protection community took a close interest in the development and outcomes of the technical trials in Barcelona and Bellaterra (Spain). They constructed questionnaires and carried out personal interviews to assist in obtaining feedback from users and observers; UAB members themselves observed key parts of the trials.
In summary, the lessons learned by and from having integrated user involvement in the project are as follows:
- Research on the sociological & behavioural aspects of providing warnings to citizens is vital and is also a fundamental requirement for citizen engagement in projects of this nature.
- Early engagement with local authorities and users is essential to provide the project with ‘real’ experience & feedback. Ideally, local area users should form part of the UAB at the earliest possible stage in the project.
- Testing the system with rural users and citizens is critical in providing behavioural assessment and feedback. However, this needs to be done with tact and care to ensure that they understand that they are not testing a ‘ready-for-delivery’ system.
- Commitment from political and diplomatic authorities (where relevant) is necessary to widen participation to a pan-European level and to ensure that developments will become reality.
- Language – never assume a common understanding! This is equally important when defining a common understanding of technical terminology as well as in general linguistic terms.
Any project which involves the development of systems and services for the authorities, emergency services or the citizen in general, should include a UAB element within its structure. The CHORIST consortium can demonstrate significant benefits on both technical and user sides to support this assertion.