March 22nd, 2016: it is a sadly famous date all over the world as the day when Brussels, the heart of Europe, has been hit by the bombings at the Zaventem airport and the Maelbeek metro station. More than 30 casualties, and more than 300 injuried.

Few days ago the local press published a news (later reported by the CNN, the Washington Post and others): the Belgian federal Police, after the bombing at the airport, sent to Jo Decuyper, chief of railway police for the Brussels region, an email ordering the closure of the Brussels metro. It was 9:07 in the morning.

Four minuts later the explosion at the Maelbeek metro station killed 16 victims: the metro was not closed. The order of the closure was sent via email to Decuyper’s personal address and not to the institutional one: Decuyper didn’t read the message until after the bombing.

Decuyper told that receiving the email would have made no difference, as evacuating and closing the metro system would have taken 30 minutes. Nonetheless, it is right to ask if using interoperable tools would have guaranteed a better and more timely response by the emergency services. An interoperable system is free from human mistakes and it would have surely prevented sending a message to the wrong address; moreover, it guarantees less time for any kind of communication and information exchange, either between authorities and from authorities to citizens. Even if the email was sent at 9:07, a federal alert was issued by Belgium’s Federal Crisis Center at 8:50, including an order to close the metro and the main railway stations in Brussels. 17 minutes from the federal alert to the not-read closure order: Adding 4 (minutes – from the email to the explosion) gives the result of 21: even if 21 is not 30, as the minutes cited by Decuyper, it is a value that is not very far from it. An interoperable system, developed solely with the purpose of managing events like this, would have granted the Crisis Center to send directly to all the involved actors the information, the orders and the instructions.

Why using email during emergency situations? Having a sofisticated system developed specifically for emergency management, but also usable during day-to-day operations, would prevent the operators to use non-reliable systems like email, allowing a sound management of the crisis.

IES Solutions strongly believes in interoperability as a tool to be used for enhancing the security and the safety of the citizens from man-made disasters, natural ones or terrorist attacks.

De Standaard article

CNN article

Washington Post article