Profiles of Norwegian science: Comrades for crises and emergencies

Photo: Ilan Kelman CIEM hosts an international crisis research conference.

Photo: Ilan Kelman
CIEM hosts an international crisis research conference.

Ilan Kelman
Agder, Norway

An emergency! Call 911—or in Norway 113, although this number is only for an ambulance. We must dial 110 for fire and 112 for police in Norway.

Even the simple act of telephoning for emergency help for a local situation becomes complicated. Imagine more widespread crises.

The Centre for Integrated Emergency Management (CIEM) at the University of Agder in Kristiansand has researched these challenges since its founding in 2011. Covering technological and social innovation, the center has numerous projects to contribute to understanding and improving emergency management.

One initiative is called COMRADES, the Collective Platform for Community Resilience and Social Innovation during Crises. Funded by the European Union from 2016-2018, it lives up to its name by bringing people together for providing communities with technology and information management to deal with crises.

In COMRADES, communities develop the tools and concepts they need to deal with crises. They will cover the entire time range, from preparing for a major crisis through to detecting one and then filtering the massive amount of social media information generated during a crisis followed by post-crisis community support.

Similar principles are enacted for the “Smart Mature Resilience” project, also funded by the European Union until 2018. Using computer simulations, questionnaires to institutions dealing with crises, and communication with the public, guidelines are being developed to help communities build resilience to crises.

The projects are carried out by CIEM’s staff—over two dozen researchers led by the Director Professor Ole-Christoffer Granmo, who is assisted by two deputy directors, Professor Tina Comes and Professor Bjørn Erik Munkvold. Scientific expertise ranges from information and communication technologies to security and global development.

To connect with emergency management practitioners, the center maintains strong links in Norway and around the world. Their projects directly involve small businesses and local emergency authorities offering crisis-related products and services as well as professional and voluntary emergency responders and emergency managers.

CIEM supports students, providing early career experiences in science, policy, and practice related to crises and emergencies. The next generation of professionals is being prepared, improving all sectors in dealing with emergencies.

These ventures, expertise, and personnel are building CIEM towards becoming a Center of Excellence. The key is linking cultural and technological aspects of emergency management. Robust wireless networks are needed as much as robust and trustworthy social networks.

Addressing crises requires data acquisition, management, and interpretation alongside communications systems that connect with and involve the public. Social elements incorporate reliability, trust, privacy, and teamwork. Many disciplines collaborate to join interests, needs, and approaches across disparate fields.

So while CIEM’s director and deputy directors focus on technologies and their use, CIEM member Christian Webersik pursues political science and international relations. He examines intersections of crisis with natural resources, climate change, security, natural hazards, conflict, and development.

This combination of skills and topics means working together to bring people together. In May 2015, CIEM hosted the 12th International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM). Over three hundred delegates from across three dozen countries converged on Kristiansand.

Social scientists, physical scientists, technical experts, policy makers, and practitioners gave talks, exchanging results and proposals to improve everyone’s work. Presentations examined evacuating llamas during Colorado wildfires and crowd-sourced crisis mapping after the earthquake in Nepal, which had happened just a few weeks before.

CIEM also participated in the TRIPLEX 2016 emergency exercise in Lista, Norway, at the end of September of this year. A consortium of international organizations simulated a large-scale disaster to test the capabilities of and to train with international, national, and local groups, from the United Nations to local civil defense.

University staff and students assisted in carrying out and evaluating the exercise. Participants rescued those trapped, gave first aid, delivered relief supplies to survivors, and promoted the safety and security of affected communities. This training and experience is invaluable for understanding what to do when a real disaster strikes.

The cutting-edge research, policy advice, and influence on practice mean that CIEM contributes in so many ways to making a safer world. When you next dial whichever emergency number functions, or when you are caught in a large-scale catastrophe, CIEM’s creativity will be behind the scenes, supporting you in dealing with the crisis.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 2, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.