On June 30 and July 1 first responders, innovation managers and policy makers from around Europe convened in The Hague for the 2nd European First Responders Innovation Managers (EFRIM) Workshop to discuss how the emergency services can work together more effectively at the local, national and international level. This meeting coincides with a turbulent time for the emergency services sector.
The emergency service landscape is undergoing major shifts in many countries around the world. In general, budgets are shrinking alongside increasing demand from politicians and the public in terms of quantity (responding to more calls) and quality (requests for faster, more efficient response) of services. The expectation from the public that first responders must efficiently and effectively respond to increasingly complex problems is a shared challenge. Issues such as ageing populations, terrorism, flooding and social unrest do not fall within the remit of one single organization, and often require the response of various first responder agencies and other stakeholders. Amidst shrinking budgets, the emergency services are being forced to think of innovative ways to collaborate and work together more closely- be it through sharing vehicles and co-locating, co-responding, sharing back office functions and IT systems, joint training or co-procuring and co-designing technological solutions.
There are many exciting examples of such activities already happening in various localities, but there is little being done to consolidate all of these notable practices so that other regions potentially only have to tweak the wheel, rather than reinvent it (for a noteworthy exception seethe Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group). Relatedly, there is a lot of redundancy and overlap across Europe in terms of research and development in the emergency service sector, which can be mitigated through more robust knowledge sharing platforms. And finally, research and development (with specific regard to technological solutions) in this sector has been said to be steered by either private companies and interests or detached academics, with only 'ceremonial' regard to actual end-user needs and greater public interest. This results in solutions that are either not fit for purpose, or not needed at all.
EFRIM presents a promising first step in addressing many of these challenges. As a bottom-up initiative, EFRIM can provide a platform for both formal and informal knowledge sharing across police, fire and ambulance services in Europe. While there are many initiatives that bring together these organizations separately at the international level (e.g. Federation of the European Union Fire Officer Associations), EFRIM is the first multi-agency endeavour aimed at building dialogue among the multiple first responder organizations Europe-wide. By developingan online space and organizing workshops and events for knowledge sharing (e.g. past projects, current initiatives, ongoing R&D, notable practices, potential funding streams etc.) within the practitioner community, problems can be better and more coherently defined and articulated bycommunities and end-users. These can then be shared with researchers and industry to apply for funding to co-research and co-design solutions in a more strategic and consolidated manner.
Although EFRIM is still very much a fledgling initiative, the workshop in The Hague clearly illustrated the benefits of such an organization. First responders from the UK, Germany, Spain, Belgium and The Netherlands enthusiastically shared ideas on how to professionalize the European emergency service sector as a whole, and proposed concrete next steps to build upon the work done by EFRIM partners thus far.