Using innovative technologies to protect our Critical National Infrastructure
By Rob Munro, TERRIFFIC Dissemination & Communication Lead
The recent extremely cold weather in Texas caused untold pain to the US state’s residents, many of whom could not afford to heat their homes, as Texas’ grid collapsed and the spot price of wholesale electricity surged some 10,000%. Millions of people were without power for days, as the winter weather froze vital components at power stations. Petrol supplies were limited by frozen pipelines and, consequently, a third of the state’s thermal power stations were offline (mostly gas). To add to this, an unspecified proportion of wind turbines were disabled due to icing and low-temperature shutoffs.
Much of the state also faced water shortages, as the weather caused pipes to burst and treatment plants to back up, disrupting services and contaminating supplies. Texas officials ordered 7 million people – a quarter of the population – to boil tap water before drinking it. Hospitals, notably in Austin and Houston, were also among those struggling with the disruption to water supplies.
A very clear demonstration of how essential a state or country’s Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) is to our everyday lives.
Instead of the weather though, imagine if the nature of the disruption to power and water supplies that Texas suffered had been caused by a dirty bomb designed to disperse radioactive material. The immediate threat is clearly from the explosion itself, but the radioactive dust and smoke would disperse farther away, depending on the weather conditions, and can be extremely dangerous to health if inhaled. An added danger, of course, is that you cannot see, smell, feel, or taste radiation. Panic levels amongst the general public could escalate very quickly with the likely resulting injuries and fatalities, putting even further pressure on the emergency services and medical facilities.
TERRIFFIC project will reduce risks for responders
The initial minutes and hours of a response to any CBRNe incident are absolutely critical. Responders aim to contain the most severe consequences, stop the ongoing criminal or terrorist threat, save victims, manage the crime scene and organise an effective response. This is also the time when first responders are most at risk as the nature, extent and intensity of the contamination is still unknown and secondary devices or contaminated objects may still be present.
TERRIFFIC brings innovative technologies together to dramatically improve the initial response.
The TERRIFFIC project, which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, is working to deliver a step change in the effectiveness of first responders during the first 30-60 minutes of a Radiological, Nuclear, explosive (RNe) incident. It will lead to reduced response times, fewer risks for the response team and less human intervention in the operation, due to a higher number of automated processes and extended mobile detection capabilities.
TERRIFFIC will enrich the broader European response to RNe events by developing a set of modular technology components in a comprehensive system. These will include new detectors, sensors, drones, robots and plume dispersion modelling with the data being fed into augmented reality software and into an advanced information management & decision support system.
The MODES van from Arktis Radiation Detectors; CBRNe-Frontline from Bruhn NewTech; Augmented Reality solution from the Luxembourg Institute of Science & Technology
Key components of the TERRIFFIC System
Arktis Radiation Detectors is expanding the functionality of its mobile radiation monitoring MODES van to ‘house’ the full TERRIFFIC System, providing rapid deployment. It has also developed a SiPR detector and a Flat Panel Gamma (FPG) detector, which delivers the highest degree of sensitivity at a specificity sufficient to discern the type of radioactive source (medical, natural, nuclear, industrial).
Bruhn NewTech’s CBRNe-Frontline incident management system pulls all of the data from the System into one place, including from the radiation sensors and cameras that are mounted on the UAV and UGV and the results of the plume modelling forecasting. Offering full situational awareness, the real-time status and management of all sensors is coordinated through the embedded Sensor Connectivity Information Management (SCIM) software hub. Supporting critical decision making, the System can communicate a CBRNe picture to command and control systems. CBRNe-Frontline is already in operational use by NATO forces, giving it proven credentials.
Flat Panel Gamma (FPG) detector from Arktis Radiation Detectors; Aeraccess Hawker Q800X drone; NERVA XX robot from Nexter Robotics
Aeraccess’ Hawker Q800X is a versatile UAV platform that can carry a wide range of different payloads up to 1kg, including the RNe sensors and cameras developed in the project. Designed to resist harsh weather conditions, it can be flown in winds of up to 70 kph with gusts of 90 kph and can still operate in heavy rain conditions, snow, fog and desert conditions.
The NERVA XX robot from Nexter Robotics is a light, robust and versatile UGV, which can be equipped with more than 20 different mission kits, delivering significant flexibility to users. It is used operationally for tasks as varied as CBRN recognition, IED control and victim assistance. It can of course be deployed with the world’s smallest coded aperture gamma camera and the FPG detector, developed during the project.
Miniaturised gamma camera from CEA; radioactive source visualised over real location image; plume modelling software from École Centrale de Lyon
CEA List is developing the world’s smallest coded aperture gamma camera, which visualises any contamination hot spots. Weighing only approximately 300 grams, it can be fitted to the UAV and the UGV and transmits the images back to the incident management software. In training mode, it simulates the gamma camera behaviour without using any radioactive sources, offering further tangible benefits to practitioner organisations.
The École Centrale de Lyon has developed the algorithms and software that are used not only to locate the radiation source, but also to identify what the source is and how it will disperse into the area, depending on weather conditions and surrounding buildings. The measurements taken produce a plume model, which can be viewed in a 3D simulation of the contaminated area.
The augmented reality solution developed by the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology will provide a never before seen set of information in near real-time to the incident commander, delivering essential data from inside the red zone. Commanders can visualise the incident, overlay various symbols and see the sensor readings incorporated into the visual graphics.
Dr Ulisse Gendotti, CTO of Arktis Radiation Detectors and project coordinator expanded: “The impact of such a terrorist act is unthinkable, but of course we have to prepare for the worst possible scenario. In TERRIFFIC, we are bringing innovative technologies together into a new system, which will make a huge difference to the initial response. More information about the actual threat being faced means the incident commander can make better-informed decisions and save lives.”
Diagram of the TERRIFFIC Concept of Operations © TERRIFFIC
Firefighters are trialling and evaluating the components
All aspects of the project are practitioner driven, with CBRNe experts from several European Member States contributing throughout the project to the final solution. Leading edge technologies have been provided by the R&D partners, whereas key innovative components are being developed by SMEs already involved in the military or first responder markets. A number of practitioners have been heavily involved throughout the development process, assessing the various components and they will trial the technology using live radiation sources in the Final Trial.
Chambéry, not far from the Lac du Bourget in France, was the venue for the first TERRIFFIC trial – an initial assessment of the existing technologies in the system’s components. This three-day training and assessment event, organised by TL & Associates and hosted by SDIS73, the French fire service for the Savoie region, allowed the technical team to create a baseline to evaluate the effectiveness and the potential of the various technologies, and from which future development and integration work could be taken forward. Several different radiation scenarios, developed with operational practitioners, were utilised to challenge the components in both indoor and outdoor environments.
TERRIFFIC will lead to reduced response times, less human intervention in the operation and fewer risks for the response team.
Lt. Col. Denis Giordan of SDIS73 emphasised the aspirations of the project at that time by saying: “I hope that TERRIFFIC will be able to help the safety of first responders and specialised responders and to improve the tactical situation analysis.”
TERRIFFIC components were also used during the eNotice trial in Gurcy, France in May 2019 to demonstrate the augmented value of drone and robot use for first responders. Run by SDIS77 at their training centre, this demonstration exercise involved 600 participants from the police and fire services, as well as representatives from the French Ministry of the Interior and the European Commission.
Following on from what was learnt during these trials, the technical team has continued to develop and evolve these technologies – both independently and as an integrated system. Remote and physical integration of the components was carried out in March and September 2020, meaning that the project has continued to make good progress despite the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 travel and meeting restrictions. There is a final integration meeting planned for once the lockdown measures have been relaxed, then TL & Associates will organise a number of training sessions involving practitioners from several countries. Following these will be the Final Trial in France and a tabletop field exercise in Slovakia, which will be monitored by project partner ISEMI. Both events will importantly involve numerous practitioners, who will be able to use the integrated system and assess whether it can deliver what it promises. This will help to ensure that TERRIFFIC can really make a difference to first responders involved in the initial response to an RNe incident. Dates for these next phases will be published very soon.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 786729. The views expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors. The European Commission is not liable for its content and the use that may be made of the information contained herein.
With over 35 years’ experience in marketing and communications, Rob Munro has focussed on EU research projects in the security and crisis management sectors in the last 13 years. Working as a consultant to ARTTIC for the past 5 years, Rob is the communications and dissemination lead on the TERRIFFIC project. ARTTIC is an independent company of the PNO group and the European leader in consultancy and management services for Research and Technological Development.