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HEIMDALL (Multi-Hazard Cooperative Management Tool for Data Exchange, Response Planning and Scenario Building)

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The management of complex crisis situations, with natural, accidental or intentional origin, generally require the participation and coordination of multiple first responder organizations, including, but not limited to: firefighting units, police departments, medical emergency services, civil protection units and command and control centers. 1)

This heterogeneous group of first responders provide a varied set of expertise to handle crisis situations and pose different requirements in terms of timeliness and relevance of the needed information and interoperability among the organizations. Moreover, communication and information sharing involving additional stakeholders, such as the population at risk, become relevant to increase the overall situation awareness and population involvement. Therefore, efficient response planning, including the development of realistic scenarios, and response coordination shall take into account this multi-disciplinary context in order to provide information and tools for the wide range of stakeholders which can have an active or passive role in crisis management. In this regard, efficient inter-organizational coordination among first responders is essential for improving preparedness of societies to cope with complex crisis situations.

Considering this multi-disciplinary context, there is the need to provide integrated tools which can address the requirements of the different first responders involved in disaster risk management and can enhance cooperation and inter-organizational coordination, based on technologies already existing or currently under development. This integrated solution shall:

• Support the already existing operational procedures for inter-organizational coordination, including cross-border scenarios, and implement new ones, if needed;

• Provide means to define and share realistic scenarios and the corresponding response plans to be applied, covering the different perspectives of the involved first responders and the different phases of the disaster management cycle (preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery);

• Integrate monitoring assets, based on satellite and aerial earth observation, in-situ sensors and information provided by first responders, to promptly detect and track any existing risk or ongoing emergency;

• Apply available data fusion techniques and modelling algorithms to improve situation and risk assessment and identify the relevant scenarios available and the corresponding response plans to be applied, based on decision support techniques.

• Allow information sharing and communication among the relevant stakeholders, including first responders deployed on the field and the population at risk, thus enhancing stakeholder and population awareness.

HEIMDALL addresses the challenge of providing integrated tools for emergency planning and management, including the definition and sharing of multi-disciplinary scenarios, and addressing the needs of the involved first responders (firefighting units, police departments, medical emergency services, civil protection units and command and control centers) and relevant stakeholders in terms of interoperability, inter-organizational coordination and information sharing.


Development status

• January 29, 2021: In the event of a forest fire, flash flooding or a landslide, how can firefighters and rescue workers get to the disaster site as quickly as possible? What measures need to be taken? What lessons can be learned from past disasters? The HEIMDALL project provides answers via a digital platform that collects all of this information. At the virtual final presentation of the project, the benefits that it can offer were demonstrated, for example in the event of a forest fire. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Institute of Communications and Navigation has coordinated the international project, while the Earth Observation Center (EOC) at DLR processed the satellite data. 2)

- Smoke rises from an area of forest near the Spanish city of Girona. It is not a real fire, but a simulation that illustrates the capabilities of the HEIMDALL platform. Firefighters can mark out the extent of the suspected fire on a screen. A swam of drones is deployed, its flight path determined by an algorithm. This not only enables a view of the fire from above, but also provides detailed information about the build-up of heat. This can be used to pinpoint the hotspots of the fire, which can start new fires and pose a threat to firefighters. The system is able to detect hotspots that measure just 15 centimeters across. Weather data are also fed into the analysis, along with empirical values from past catastrophic fires. This allows those involved to quickly devise a strategy for fighting the fire.

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Figure 1: Information exchange using an app [image credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)]

"Improving responsiveness will ultimately save lives"

- "The HEIMDALL platform helps first responders and authorities to deal with various situations," says Tomaso de Cola, Project Manager at the DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation in Oberpfaffenhofen. ”Improving responsiveness and optimizing reaction times will ultimately save lives.”

Figure 2: The HEIMDALL project provides tools for emergency management (video credit: ©DLR 2020)

- Satellite data play a major role in disaster management. They provide location-based information and allow responders to assess emergency situations more effectively. With that in mind, DLR compiles situational information and risk assessments, which may show, for example, how trapped persons might be reached. The satellite data are recorded, analyzed and processed within a short space of time. Alongside this, the archive provides information about the course of previous disasters.

- The HEIMDALL platform can be used not only in the event of fires, but also in cases of flooding, flash floods and landslides; this was explained at the final presentation in Spain. The platform facilitates cooperation between different authorities and institutions. Those involved can exchange information, look at disaster scenarios from the past and obtain information to aid decision-making. Cross-border cooperation is also possible. Information and images from firefighters and other rescue personnel on site can be integrated into the situational overview immediately using a dedicated app. Warning the local population is another aspect of the platform. "The HEIMDALL platform can contribute to a better joint emergency response," says Tomaso de Cola.

A risk management tool

- The HEIMDALL project (Multi-Hazard Cooperative Management Tool for Data Exchange, Response Planning and Scenario Building) was funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 program. Involving international partners, the project began in spring 2017. Experiments with a swarm of drones carried out in March 2019 in Spain helped to advance the project. The results of the project were evaluated by an EU Commission committee and now provide the basis for further development.



1) ”HEIMDALL — Multi-Hazard Cooperative Management Tool for Data Exchange, Response Planning and Scenario Building,” EU, 2020, URL: http://heimdall-h2020.eu/

2) ”Digital platform helps rescue services during natural disasters,” DLR news, 29 January 2021, URL: https://www.dlr.de/content/en/articles/news/2021/01/
20210129_digital-platform-helps-rescue-services-during-natural-disasters.html



The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (herb.kramer@gmx.net).

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