The LINKS results have been applied to 5 different European contexts, each one corresponding to different disaster scenarios. In these sections, you can find the main outcomes collected in the 5 LINKS Cases, giving evidence to: the main characteristics of the Case contexts, how the LINKS results are contributing in the specific LINKS Cases, and the partners and stakeholders involved.
CASE 1: Italy – Earthquakes
In the starting phase of the LINKS project (2020), what emerged from the dialogue with the Italian partners was the lack of engagement with social media and crowdsourcing in the disaster management process, as well as the absence of knowledge on how to better engage with citizens and how to communicate with children about risk using digital technologies. Previous earthquake cases that occurred in Italy (such as the L’Aquila eartquake, in Abruzzo region in 2009, or the one in Val Nerina in 2016), provided the point of departure to understand how the use of digital tools can make communities more resilient to earthquake risks.
The activities (i.e. interviews) and research carried out since the beginning of the LINKS project highlighted that Italian practitioners’ lack of interest in social media and mainly crowdsourcing depended on the lack of clear guidelines on using these tools effectively.
For this reason, one of the aims of the Handbook and Feel Safe was to provide resources specifically designed for practitioners to be used in the whole disaster cycle (before, during and after a disaster occurs), so to demonstrate the potentialities and advantages of the use of technologies in hazardous contexts. Feel Safe has been developed over two years with several Italian stakeholders, such as UNIFI, PDT, Fanciulli School, and Italian Teachers Association, who have participated in activities, consultation processes, workshops and tests. Two thematic areas have been identified within Feel Safe, which explore the vulnerability to earthquakes and provide training tools and other educational materials for practitioners and educators.
The Including Citizens Handbook (developed by the University of Florence in cooperation with University College Copenhagen and the University of Copenhagen) and Feel Safe (Safe the Children Italy) are two online educational platforms that aim to provide resources, guidelines, and exercises on how to engage with citizens (the first) and with children (the second), in the context of disaster management operations. They are addressed to practitioners, stakeholders, policymakers, and educators. Both have been developed and validated within the Italian case scenario (earthquake): for this reason, the collaboration with the Province of Terni (PDT) has been key to strengthening the link between the products and the territory, as well as to developing two products that actively reflect the experiences and needs of the practitioners.
In the final phase of the project, the case activities carried out by the Italian team had the following impact on the Italian case scenario:
- Active engagement of stakeholders and organisations in activities, such as workshops and events. The Handbook have been presented at the LINKS Final Event in Rome (16th-17th of October) to 27 participants from different backgrounds, experiences and nationalities. First, the workshop played a pivotal role in assessing the product’s potentialities and main functions with a wide group of people: the navigation experience has been tested to evaluate if the platform is easy to access and navigate. In addition, new features, such as videos, have been shown for the first time to an audience: the integration of different media in the platform has been positively welcomed by users. Second, the workshop allowed promoting the Links Community Center (LCC) and showed how the Handbook and Feel Safe are integrated in the LCC.
- The LINKS Final Event in Rome also played a pivotal role in disseminating the outcomes and findings of the Italian team to a broader audience (experts, technicians, scholars, civil protection and so on).
Overall, these activities aimed to change Italian practitioners’ attitudes towards the use of digital technologies, especially social media, in the context of disaster management operations: having pocket guidelines and examples on two easy-to-use online platforms turned out to be a practical solution to the lack of knowledge on how to engage with people through the digital space.
CASE 2: Netherlands – Industrial Hazard
The Dutch case activities centered around the industrial site Chemelot. A large industrial complex of 800 ha in the region of South-Limburg, the Netherlands. There are over 200 different companies on the industrial site. The on-site safety is managed by the Sitech security services which includes their own on-site fire brigade. Any risks off site are dealt with together with the surrounding municipalities and Safety Region of South Limburg. The Dutch case team consists of members from the Safety Region of South Limburg, Sitech and the Free University of Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam).
During the early stages of the LINKS project, the Dutch case team reflected on their organizations’ current use of social media and crowdsourcing tools. It was identified that the tools currently in use by the Safety Region of South Limburg (VRZL) do not allow for direct communication or interaction with the public. The data collection tools in use can collect information on public sentiment, to ascertain whether safety protocols are being followed, and to locate possible misinformation online among other benefits. However, these tools do not allow for direct input from civilians. Messages shared by the safety region are quite general, messages are posted on the social media page or on their website. There is no built-in mechanism to directly interact with civilians. Furthermore, communication between citizens frequently takes place in online spaces not accessible to the public. For example, neighbourhood chat groups, family, work or friend chat groups and sport, music and arts chat groups among many others. These online spaces are currently underutilized by most disaster management organizations (DMOs) (IFV, 2020). A safety related message posted into one of these chats would reach dozens, if not hundreds of individuals.
Fundamental to the maintenance of a disaster resilient society is to work closely with those at risk. In this way the information is directly received by those who need it most. However, this kind of communication needs to take place before an incident takes place. Explaining what a civilian needs to do during an incident would waste valuable time. Informing the community before an incident takes place is therefore extremely important. LINKS activities have made it possible for the Dutch case team to bridge the gap between civilians and DMOs and to expand the communicative reach of our organizations.
Organizing workshops has been the major change in our organizations’ practices. Since the start of LINKS the VRZL and Sitech have become more physically active in the surroundings. LINKS Community Workshops (LCWs) have helped our organizations connect with surrounding citizens, bring attention to the risks surrounding chemical sites, share about the various roles and responsibilities of the government and Chemelot in the event of an incident, and highlight the importance of preparing oneself with the knowledge required to ensure one’s own safety in the event of a chemical incident. Through these workshops the VRZL but also ST (Sitech) are able to collect feedback directly from the citizens and can directly communicate with them as well. It makes it possible to immediately address misunderstandings, concerns, and to communicate personalized safety information.
Together with public partners (government & social workers) working for the various municipalities (Sittard-Geleen, Stein & Beek) the Dutch case compiled lists of stakeholders from the surroundings to invite to the various LCWs. Stakeholders included school directors, directors from surrounding hospitals, business owners, pastors, coaches, and so forth. Then, during the LCWs, the attendees were asked if they would be willing to work together with our organizations to forward the safety information we provide with their networks. Those who sign up to help us with this we refer to as “ambassadors”.
What we have noticed is that our ambassadors all have different needs. Some ambassadors have networks fully focussed on offline communication, while others are mostly active on platforms such as Facebook and twitter. We use the feedback from our ambassadors to create suitable material for their audiences. This has resulted in the creation of the “Kids Emergency Card” and the “Kids Lesson Plan” a collaborative effort between the Dutch case and the Italian case.
After LINKS concludes our ambassadors will be contacted by the project group “Samen Veilig Rondom Chemelot”, we have been working closely with the members of this project group so that they can take over once LINKS disbands. Our LCWs included a description of what this project group is, so it will not come as a surprise to our ambassadors. Our case team members are also active in this group and will be able to transfer the responsibilities once LINKS ends.
CASE 3: Germany – Drought
As an application-oriented research organization, the safety innovation center strives to bring concepts, methods and platforms developed in research projects into practice. For this reason, permanent cooperation with the city and district of Paderborn (which includes among others the fire brigade, police, authorities) has been established in the organizational structure. In the context of LINKS and the case, this means that the case activities were subject to the following impact objectives:
- Promotion and dissemination of the LINKS Community Center (LCC) as a central project platform with the aim of building and maintaining the LINKS community. This includes a particular promotion of the SMCS Libraries (Technologies, Guidelines, Use Cases and now also Crisis Communication) and the User Guidance as a user-friendly navigation aid between the different products. By presenting the LCC and the products at numerous conferences and events (e.g. EENA conference 2023 or vfdb conference 2023), different stakeholders (especially practitioner organizations) were reached, and the community was built. The goal of providing stakeholders with a platform for exchange contributes to establishing developed access points to the subject of SMCS (e.g. SMCS Libraries or User Guidance) and to positively influencing the way of seeing and working. In concrete terms, the different SMCS Libraries were exploited, and organizations supported in their social media utilization through dedicated workshops and feedback loops with interested stakeholders, including e.g. the Municipality of Frederiksberg, SITECH, Fire Department Paderborn, Paderborn Police Department, Federation of European Fire Officers etc.
- In particular, the dissemination and exploitation of the Use Cases Library provides a low-threshold approach to SMCS. Numerous practitioner organizations have compiled their experiences in use cases and added them to the LCC. This has the effect that other organizations are shown innovative and proven uses of SMCS and are themselves inspired to use SMCS.
- Collaboration with technology providers to intensively research and strengthen the technological use of social media monitoring and analysis tools with regard to their efficient usability in crisis management. Over the course of the project cooperations were deepened with Ubermetrics Technologies and Public Sonar. The needs of the practice were matched with the potential of the technology providers and thus positively influenced the further development of technologies for disaster management.
- In addition, relevant stakeholders in Germany (Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK), Federal Environment Agency (UBA), German Weather Service (DWD), Helmholtz Institute for Environmental Research (UFZ)) were surveyed about their social media activities in drought situations and at the same time informed about the project results and the LCC. In this way, valuable insights are shared and, in a second step, made available to the LINKS community.
- Overall, the drought case highlighted and promoted different ways of collaborating and developing the SMCS libraries in a crowdsourcing way via the LCC. The influence was created to consider the benefits and need for a thoughtful use of SMCS supported by innovative technologies in practice, and the necessary information is provided in the LCC. Gaps and further challenges that were not known at the beginning of the project were also identified and can be considered for future research.
CASE 4: Denmark – Flooding
The municipality of Frederiksberg has implemented a social listening tool and besides being able to follow what is going on it has brought the project managers closer to the communication department as they now have meetings about the use of social media. The social listening is also used for other areas than the one that we implemented it for. The results from the Danish survey have brought valuable knowledge that is used to plan the communication to the citizens and the end product is both a report and a flyer that can be used to in an easy way to show the politicians the facts.
The tools developed within the LINKS Framework provide a foundation for facilitating discussions and understandings of how the Greater Copenhagen Fire Department (HBR), a key practitioner partner in LINKS, can communicate risk, both within our organization, in relation to external actors and citizens. The Resilience Wheel and two of the handbooks (“mobilizing volunteers” and “communicating risk”), is especially relevant in an HBR context, as it serves as relevant steppingstones for internal discussions on the topics of risk communication, volunteering and the possibility of involving the citizen. However, to maximize the effectiveness of these products, it is crucial to introduce them within a facilitative framework. The last month of the project, HBR will introduce the handbooks to two different groups of internal actors, to start an overall conversation of how we as practitioners can use and adopt the tools in the future.
Regarding practitioners outside LINKS, the participants in the recent workshops have expressed interest in overcoming the obstacles defined and mapped in the deep dive.
The impact of the Danish activities outside the partner organizations regarding the case scenario is that LINKS has provided a new focus on the potential of applying SMCS to a larger degree – and to see the potential of having a more designated focus on the needs of the citizens.
The activities have in general contributed to understand the potential of a more thorough focus on citizens, target groups, use of platforms and also to apply tools and methods (e.g. Social listening) in a more active and inclusive way to get an insight into the needs of the citizens.
It is however still too early to come up with definitive answers to the following questions:
- if the activities have helped to change attitudes or help to start considering change in the way the disaster management organizations work. In conversations with the participants, they have however referred to the results, and the express that they have reflected on the findings and the methods to engage more the needs of the citizens in a better way. They have definitely expressed interest in applying the Resilience Wheel.
- if the activities have led to better work practices for individuals or groups.
- If the activities have helped individuals/organizations better cope with changes that might otherwise have a negative impact on them (for example, because of lack of preparation)
CASE 5: Germany – Terrorism
Over the course of the LINKS project, the German Police University (DHPol) engaged more than 60 research participants from various German police authorities and several colleagues from other EU countries (e.g. Netherlands, Austria or Sweden) in various research activities. The initial case activities carried out during the first phase of the case-based assessment (a pilot survey across all federal states in Germany, exploratory interviews and expert-panel workshops) indicated that social media had become a stable tool to manage police operations and are regarded as fundamental by Law Enforcement Agencies to secure public safety during severe events such as terrorist attacks. Yet, the exchange with the practitioners – particularly the intense collaboration on the use cases contributed to the LINKS Community Center – also revealed that social media crowdsourcing is to date primarily applied in terms of a more active engagement of citizens during such events (e.g., by asking for hints during public manhunts or motivating social media users to become multipliers for safety instructions). Its potentials in terms of an active engagement of skilled volunteers during terrorist attacks have hardly been seized by law enforcement authorities.
Thus, the final phase of the project was systematically used to explore the underlying reasons: the case team could show that while some Law Enforcement Agencies are not even aware of those possibilities, others have already established contacts with volunteer pools (e.g., VOST) and would see significant advantages in sourcing out tasks to them or working jointly on them (particularly for the efficient and fast verification of information/identification of ‘fake news’ which practitioners unanimously identified as the greatest social-media-related challenge during terrorist attacks) but are reluctant because of general insecurities about legal aspects (such as data protection or the alignment with police regulations) or the fear that the inclusion of relatively anonymous crowds into police operations might pose new security threats or promote digital vigilantism. Yet, the exchange with the practitioners during deep dive activities with DHPol also led them to reconsider those hurdles and come up with possible solutions; one interesting suggestion was for instance to look into certification programs for skilled volunteers so that Law Enforcement Agencies have a pool of trusted volunteers available when severe events strike.
These findings were in turn reflected in the LCC products themselves (e.g., by adding content to the products that explicitly address those most pressing issues) and guided the final dissemination, evaluation and sustainability activities carried out in Case 5:
- The overall usefulness of the LCC products within police contexts could be validated in scenario-based usability tests with police education staff. Those tests could not only showcase that the setup of the various libraries and handbooks indeed enables police crisis managers to solve realistic information gathering and assessment tasks within only a few minutes but also pointed towards future application contexts within the German police.
- Promotion articles for journals that specifically target police practitioner audiences in Germany (e.g., ‘Behördenmagazin’) and across the EU (‘The European Law Enforcement Bulletin’) were created. These outputs systematically address the various problems and concerns identified regarding the application of SMCS and point police practitioners directly to the LCC products and features that help to resolve them.
- Findings from the project, as well as the most valuable contents from the LCC were incorporated into materials for lectures at the German Police University and shall thus help future police leadership and communication staff make more informed strategic decisions about social media and crowdsourcing applications, mainly the Resilience Wheel will be introduced for this purpose and was thus adjusted for the law enforcement context and turned into a large educational map by an external graphic designer.