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05 11 2022

NATO Agency supports emergency response project in Western Balkans

The NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) has helped four countries in the Western Balkans adopt a system to manage information during emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or natural disasters.

The NCI Agency completed in March 2022 the Advanced Regional Civil Emergency Coordination Pilot (ARCECP) project, a flagship activity of the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) programme.

NATO Agency supports emergency response project in Western Balkans

ARCECP ran from 2017 to 2022 with the main aim to implement a Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS) in the Western Balkans. This civil emergency protection, situational awareness and collaboration software platform facilitated communications between first responders and improved crisis management to prepare and plan for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

The open source platform was supported through NATO's SPS programme and developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT LL), in collaboration with the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG).

The NCI Agency ran the project, providing technical and subject matter expertise and managing the acquisition of the equipment.

"The project is a good example of how NATO can contribute to helping member and partner countries respond to emergencies. The NCI Agency supported the implementation of an effective open-source solution for civil emergencies in the Western Balkans to enhance national and regional capabilities," said Filip Hostiuc, the Project Manager for the effort.

Four countries -- Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia -- received equipment to use and maintain the system and conduct extensive user training. During the first year, the NCI Agency and MIT worked with the participating countries to ensure the system was successfully deployed and tailored to their country's specific needs..

In the subsequent years, the engagement with the NICS user community in each country increased. User group members from continued to meet once a week to discuss the development and evaluation of new features and improvements to the system. The project also engaged young scientists and engineers to further develop this technology, fostering practical cooperation in civil security related science and technology.

To prove the concept, NICS was used in three exercises coordinated by the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre. The platform was also successfully tested during national and regional exercises in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

Here are just a few ways the project benefited the participating member countries:

  • Croatia used the system during an earthquake in December 2020.

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina used the system in new ways, including in tracking historic search-and-rescue missions to inform future rescues. Bosnia and Herzegovina hosted the first NATO international exercise that highlighted the use of this system.

  • Montenegro was first to instantiate the system on their own country servers and employ it in a national exercise.

  • North Macedonia focused on advancing the system's features to align with their national standards, which benefited all the countries. This alignment led to extensive participation and broad adoption within the country, which in turn led to official, national adoption of the system in 2019.

"The SPS programme supports practical cooperation between NATO member and partner countries on security related civil science and innovation, and this project is a perfect example of why we do this. It has contributed to enhancing countries' capacity to respond to civil emergencies and built a robust community of experts, including scientists and engineers, who worked together to share knowledge and collectively improve this system," said Dr Eyup Turmus, SPS Advisor and Programme Manager.

A book about the project has also been published. You can read it now here on Springer.