We recently spoke to Harris Georgiou, volunteer with the Hellenic Rescue Team of Attica (HRTA).
HRTA is an independent non-profit organisation, a union of citizens and a community centre consisting entirely of volunteers who offer their time, expertise, knowledge and personal effort to assist fellow citizens in cases of emergency.
HRTA is primarily involved in Search & Rescue (SAR) operations in three key fields:
- Wilderness (mountains, forests, non-urban areas),
- Water (open sea, coastline, rivers, lakes, floods) and
- Urban (earthquakes, floods, tsunamis).
HRTA has highly trained individuals for each field of operations, ranging from level 1 support members to level 4 fully operational members, all acting as a team and tailored to each specific operation at hand. See the HRTA fact sheet below for more details on the organisation’s structure and operations.
Involvement in Scent
Harris’ personal involvement with HRTA dates back to 2011. As a certified scuba diver and emergency first responder as well as a R&D professional in the field of telecommunications and signal processing, Harris figured he could bring something to HRTA and decided to join to support the efforts of the team. Harris values HRTA’s long history of operational excellence and ethos in Greece and explains that his own long-term involvement in humanitarian projects and disaster response are perfectly in line with the high specialisation and unique capabilities of the rest of the team.
HRTA is primarily involved in Scent through the planning and execution of the field operations of the pilot in the Kifisos area (Athens, Greece) using available equipment, members and expertise in urban and river environments. When relevant, the team can safely access potentially dangerous areas in order to install sensors, take measurements, test Scent equipment/applications etc.
Additionally, HRTA plays a central role in disseminating Scent and the general idea of Citizen Observatories through its broad network of contacts with citizen and volunteer groups. Areas around the Kifisos river have a history of floods, such as the recent disaster that hit western Attica with the flash-flooding of other (blocked) rivers and resulted in the death of several people. HRTA’s contacts with relevant organisations, such as environmental NGOs and government agencies are key to ensure impactful collaboration and results.
Finally, HRTA can provide medical support to all public events planned as part of the pilot in Kifisos. The current focus of HRTA’s work is collaborating with the Attica Region and other government authorities in the area to prepare the preliminary plan for the Kifisos pilot, which will go live in the second half of 2018.
Reflections on expectations
Harris sees the experience of working together with so many experts and in so many different aspects in the context of floods, especially in urban areas, as truly invaluable for HRTA. He points out that HRTA usually contributes through SAR and disaster relief operations taking place after an emergency. Through Scent, HRTA has the chance to gain in-depth insights into issues related to civil protection plans, preventive measures and tracking of important changes that may affect flooding. At the same time, the HRTA team is involved as stakeholders, defining requirements and making contributions. This is the first time the organisation is part of such a large-scale H2020 R&D project consortium. The team is very happy with the progress made thus far together with the other partners.
Looking forward to get started
So far, HRTA’s involvement in Scent has been limited to a stakeholder’s view as an end-user. However, the next few months will mark HRTA’s focused and specialised contribution to the project, planning and executing core tasks related to the Kifisos pilot. The readiness level of the team is already high, they are forming sub teams and schedules and are looking forward to get started.
Scent and the environment
HRTA sees the impact that Scent as a Citizen Observatories initiative will have as twofold in terms of sustainability and the environment. First, the project will activate citizens at large scale to get informed and actually participate in the development of a proper response to floods. This involves major behavioural changes at the level of the individual. Scent will encourage citizens to care for the environment through reducing waste, promptly identifying potential dangers etc. The project will also enhance the collective awareness of protecting the environment and respecting preventive measures, e.g. not blocking dry river beds with constructions and buildings (risk assessment and mitigation). HRTA points out that floods are a special kind of event which turn into a devastating disaster only if people ignore the dangers that most of the time can be foreseen.
HRTA has presented an overview and the first development stage of Scent in two conferences in Greece. SafeAthens 2017 focused on civil protection and the Pan-Hellenic Conference on Informatics 2017 on Informatics and Communications Technologies. Harris specifies that while the first one is obvious, the second one is also a very interesting aspect of Scent, since it includes the development and practical application of several cutting-edge technologies, such as image analysis and understanding, wireless sensors and aerial photography for Geographical Information Systems (GIS).
At these events, HRTA introduced Scent to several citizen groups, NGOs and governmental organisations, and used the Scent poster and leaflet to explain and give them an overview of what Scent is all about and how it is related to floods and citizen crowd-sourcing.
HRTA will increase its dissemination activities as the planning of the Kifisos pilot progresses in order for people to be familiar with Scent when the time comes for the open calls. The team is also looking forward to starting to use the first versions of the Scent tools Scent Collaborate and Scent Explore, provide feedback and present them to their partner organisations for a glimpse of what is to come in the new year.
What is unique about Scent?
HRTA describes Scent as a unique project in at least two ways. First, as every other Citizen Observatory project in H2020, Scent is a test and a benchmark of how far crowd-sourcing and citizen involvement can go in terms of getting really useful data for scientific studies. Sensor networks have been around for many years, but in Scent, the “sensors” are the citizens themselves, able to follow instructions, optimise the data collection, move around areas of interest and form an extremely dynamic network of very rich sensory capabilities. Second, specifically in the context of Greece, communities have been hit by several flooding disasters resulting in loss of many lives and massive destruction of property in the last few months. Sadly, Scent is more relevant than ever today.
Scent and other EU-funded research projects
As every other major H2020 project, Scent is a very organised and disciplined endeavour of R&D, involving experts from several fields. Additionally, it is focused on producing a practical result as a feasibility study in the form of two pilots. This is also common in projects of true innovation and beyond-state-of-the-art targets, and in the case of Scent, the emphasis is more on the collaborative and crowd-sourcing nature of the proposed system, as in all Citizen Observatories.
Surprises in the first fifteen months of the project
As a professional with extensive experience in working with similar R&D projects, Harris sees that Scent has presented the drawbacks and the breakthroughs that are more or less expected in this kind of innovation actions, especially at the early stages. From HRTA’s non-expert viewpoint, Harris says he knows that pretty much every aspect of the Scent approach has at least one very interesting issue, e.g. the use of commercially available drones for high-quality aerial photography for GIS or the combination of web and mobile platforms to provide supplementary functionality to various levels of end-users and decision-makers. Harris expects a big landing for Scent and great interest among the general public once the project’s full potential is available.
The overall impact of Scent in three concepts
Collaborative: Citizens support the crowd-sourcing system as a “live” sensor network.
Coordinative: The authorities can exploit the data feeds and guide the users for more.
Ubiquitous: Scent is always “on” – it can be accessed anywhere, anytime, by anyone.
|HRTA fact sheet
HRTA is registered with the General Secretariat Civil Protection (GSCP) of Greece. HRTA collaborates closely with EMAK (the Fire Service Special Task Force responsible for SAR) and other firefighting services in joint exercises, training and operations. HRTA is also actively involved in the JRCC (the Greek maritime Search and Rescue) action plan.
HRTA’s involvement in Search & Rescue (SAR) operations can be outlined as follows:
The Wilderness SAR division is manned with experienced mountain guides, climbers, hikers, 4×4 drivers and support members, all volunteers with the same objective – to help save lives. Predominantly challenging is the “vertical” field requiring technical climbing techniques and special rescue equipment, in which team members are specifically trained and capable of performing rescue work under any conditions.
The Water SAR division is responsible for operations in the open sea, in inland lakes, rivers and floods, staffed with experienced scuba divers, lifeguards, speed craft pilots, sailors, white water guides and support members. The HRTA members often collaborate with the Hellenic Coast Guard. The team members have excellent scientific and technical skills, and they participate in regular training for continuous specialisation. After long-term intensive training, HRTA members can be involved in coastline and water surface search, by foot or boat. Experienced divers can contribute to subsurface search by using scuba equipment and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).
The Urban SAR division works with locating, extracting and providing initial medical stabilisation to victims trapped in confined spaces due to natural disasters, structural collapses, transportation accidents and collapsed trenches and mines. HRTA has developed a training programme that is both theoretical and practical and based on the international accepted guidelines published by the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In its training courses, HRTA always tries to involve and receive assistance from professionals in related fields: experts in fire services and construction, demolition engineers and technicians and civil and structural engineers, addressing a wide variety of specialised tools and equipment.
All HRTA members attend mandatory certified Basic Life Support (BLS) training courses by international certification associations, such as the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Emergency First Response (EFR), and they recertify their qualifications every two years. Additionally, in order to obtain the best results in its operations, HRTA collaborates with advanced first aid programmes such as Wilderness Advanced First Aid® by the American Safety and Health Institute, and Casualty Care in Mountain Rescue by the British Association for Immediate Care (BASICS) and the Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support (PHTLS®) and Trauma First Response programmes by the US National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. Many HRTA members are certified in these programmes. This enables the team to provide first-aid assistance at large-scale events, such as annual running and biking competitions and the World Rally Championship Rally Acropolis. Finally, the telecommunications infrastructures of SAR teams are usually manned by licensed radio amateur members providing constant and reliable contact between the teams in the field, the operations centre and the Greek authorities.