Research into the management of major crises, for instance natural disasters, has a long history in Sweden. However, this is not the case for smaller events such as traffic accidents, small fires, drownings and sudden illnesses. For this reason, in 2011 the MSB took the initiative to, together with LiU, establish a national research centre – Carer (the Center for Advanced Research in Emergency Response). The aim of Carer is to develop new research and to disseminate knowledge about society’s ability to manage everything from everyday accidents to major events at local, national and global levels.
Carer gathers interdisciplinary research in fields such as economics, informatics, computer sciences, logistics, cognitive science, disaster medicine, traumatology, law, political science and gender studies. Research is conducted in close collaboration with rescue system stakeholders, such as SOS Alarm, rescue services, emergency medical services, police, maritime and air rescue, as well as businesses within the field. There is also collaboration with organisations in civil society, such as the Red Cross and Missing People.
Photo credit Jenny Ahlgren“Our research focusses particularly on society’s ability to respond in the event of accidents, especially between the time when the alarm is activated and when the injured have received care, the fire has been extinguished or the flood has been attended to. How does one best reach an incident site, who will get there most rapidly, and which resources and technologies are most suitable? These are examples of the questions we’re investigating”, says Professor Sofie Pilemalm, director of Carer.
The research spans across a broad interdisciplinary field. One example is logistics in emergency medical services, where LiU researchers were early to develop OPAL, a decision-making tool that helps ambulance dispatchers at SOS Alarm make optimal use of ambulance resources.
Tobias Andersson-Granberg, associate professor in quantitative logistics, was a leader in the work with OPAL, which was subsequently developed further and is now used by ambulance dispatchers.
“This is one of several good examples of a collaboration between research, industry and practitioners, that delivers benefits and hopefully has saved lives”, he says.
Michael Zantelid is group leader in organisational development at SOS Alarm:
“OPAL is part of the overall framework of our operative management. Linköping University is a key driver in innovation, especially in the field of emergency vehicles. We look forward to new collaborations.”
Another example of the centre’s research concerns the organisation of collaborative rescue services. A third example is how volunteers can be better utilised in rescue efforts.
“We have a clear presence in the social debate, and we adapt to the current situation in society. A few years ago the focus was on forest fires, now it’s Covid-19. Thanks to our interdisciplinary approach, we shed light on the issues in a way that’s otherwise difficult. The aim is to transform our research into something that saves lives”, says Sofie Pilemalm.
Collaboration and results
Characteristic of Carer’s operations is its frequent and extensive collaboration with a number of societal actors. In recent years this has been developed further, involving not only emergency services, SOS Alarm, businesses and government agencies, but also other professional and volunteer organisations. Several research projects concern volunteer efforts in rescue work. People who work in, for instance, home care services and security receive training in how to carry out rescue efforts on site, such as extinguishing a small fire, stopping a bleeding wound, or administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Civilians in sparsely populated and socioeconomically disadvantaged areas also receive such training. At the same time, apps and other technologies are being developed so that volunteers close to the accident site can be contacted and can rapidly reach the site, normally before professional rescue services have arrived.
Photo credit Jimmy Croona/Försvarsmakten“Society’s public resources are shrinking. Our research focusses on how, despite this reduction, it’s possible to make initiatives more efficient, and to save lives, by way of new technology and more volunteers. The idea of what volunteers and civil organisations can achieve has shifted completely. For instance, after the 2018 forest fires, the Swedish government asked the Red Cross to review the coordination of volunteers”, says Sofie Pilmalm.
Anders Leicht is national training coordinator for the Police’s part in the rescue service that includes searching for missing people and alpine rescue. In this work, he collaborates with Carer.
“Last year we had 27,000 cases of missing people. A third of these – 9,000 – were high-priority cases where we suspected lives were at risk, for instance elderly dementia sufferers and people with mental illness”, says Anders Leicht.
Since the spring of 2019, a network has been created in collaboration with Carer. It includes the Police, Missing People, organisations with a focus on e.g. dementia and Downs Syndrome, and representatives from aged care.
“The researchers see with fresh eyes, whereas we might have become blind. New doors, new ways of thinking, have opened, for instance how we can work with prevention, so the same individuals don’t disappear over and over”, says Anders Leicht.
Lars-Göran Uddholm is the chairman of the board at Carer, and was formerly head of the Södertörn fire protection association, where he was in charge of extinguishing the forest fires in 2014:
“Traditionally, the fire services have not been interested in research results. This must change, so we don’t just follow our gut feeling, and think that what we’re doing is good and effective, without actually knowing. The interaction between people, technology and organisation is difficult and complicated. Here, research has huge benefits, for instance Carer’s research programme The Incident Site of the Future, which has organised well-attended annual seminars aimed at rescue work practitioners. Research has impact this way”.
Carer’s work spans across six departments in LiU’s faculties of arts and sciences, medicine and health sciences, and science and engineering. There is collaboration with the Centre for Climate Science and Policy Research which focusses on major natural disasters where multiple societal systems are under pressure and everything must be managed simultaneously. Carer also has a project with Security Link, a centre at LiU that takes a technical approach to the strategic research field of security and crisis management.
At the national level, projects are under way with the University of Borås and Mid Sweden University.
Carer also collaborates with universities in Scotland and Canada, as well as with UK’s National Crime Agency, regarding searches for missing people. Other collaborations are ongoing with universities in Norway and the United States, including Stanford and Harvard. Carer also has a long-standing collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the United States. The DHS works extensively with the development of technology for first responders.
“Here we can learn from one another. They teach us about new technology and we teach them about volunteering. Sweden is at the forefront when it comes to involving civilians at the incident site, and there is a lot of interest in this internationally”, says Sofie Pilemalm.
Collaboration is also under way with the business sector, in particular with companies that work with the translation of technical research results to concrete products aimed at facilitating rescue work.
An important part of Carer is the tight collaboration with the Centre for Teaching and Research in Disaster Medicine and Traumatology (KMC) at Region Östergötland. They conduct a number of training programmes for staff in the rescue sector. This pushes fresh research results rapidly out to the relevant target groups.
In the future, Carer will also develop and drive digitalised training programmes for professionals.
In recent years, Carer has been featured in national and international media, not least in relation to the initiative for volunteer efforts and the coordination of these.
Examples of current research results
Pilemalm S. (2019) ICT-Enabled Citizen Co-production in Excluded Areas – Using Volunteers in Emergency Response. In: Panagiotopoulos P. et al. (eds) Electronic Participation. ePart 2019. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 11686. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27397-2_8
Prytz, E., Grönbäck, A., Goolsby, C., & Granberg, T. A. (2020). Evaluating the Effect of Bleeding Control Kit Locations for a Mass Casualty Incident Using Discrete Event Simulation. Proceedings of the 17th ISCRAM Conference, May 2020, 167–178. http://idl.iscram.org/files/erikprytz/2020/2217_ErikPrytz_etal2020.pdf
Matinrad, N. (2019). An Operations Research Approach for Daily Emergency Management (Licentiate dissertation). Linköping University Electronic Press, Linköping. https://doi.org/10.3384/lic.diva-157099
Stenberg, R., Wolmesjö, M, Leicht, A (2019) Efterforskning av försvunna personer: en internationell forskningsöversikt. CARER rapport 2019:29, Linköping University Press, Sweden