Five countries – Romania, Spain, Slovakia, Portugal and Italy – involved in the FLOOD-serv project with respective pilot cities per each are assigned to test and evaluate a platform for emergency and territorial services management. The pilot cities have been chosen in such a way that different hydrological realities and management situations are represented.
The city of Genoa, for example, decided to work more specifically on a citizens’ awareness-raising theme both on the hydrogeological risk prevention and the involvement of social actors in the Public Administration. The City of Genoa has shown a long-term interest in the sustainable development and the search for a solution based on ICT technologies, as demonstrated by the creation of the Genoa Smart City Association (AGSC) in 2010 and the constant participation in environment-themed EU Projects as a tool for the transformation of the city.
The Genoa project has worked and will continue to work focusing on the ‘pre’ and ‘post’ emergency management, testing new early warning procedures and interoperating with the city’s system of geo-referenced data actually stored in the Cartographic Geo-Portal. For this purpose the Ligurian pilot activities point to a better involvement of the citizens in different levels.
A participatory process with the latter aims to use the gathered data to improve the existing services performance, contribute to the creation of new services with a bottom-up approach, as well as with useful information and personalized services. Lastly, the experimentation and testing of the portal want to offer concrete help towards the creation of social exchange networks and mutual help among territorial associations, independent citizens, private companies and public administrations in order to form, thanks to the FLOOD-serv project, a heritage of shared knowledge, expertise and new social relations.
Following an approach already successful in other contexts, citizens are called to take active part in the gathering of data and territorial information useful to prevent and manage emergency flooding situations. By this way it would be possible to nurture habits which could build better urban resilience in potential disaster areas. In addition, the new services could be employed not only in creating but also in strengthening ‘people networks’. In other words, citizens will be able to self-organize and prepare themselves to act both before and after an emergency.
Genoa’s pilot experimentations, established and shared with all partner cities and countries, focus on the ‘pre’ and ‘post’ emergency, since Italy already has a clear protocol of engagement – managed by the Protezione Civile (Civil Protection) – which becomes operative and paramount during the hydrogeological or environmental emergency phase. In Italy the only authority authorised to decide and act during an emergency is the Civil Protection System. It is an integrated system of institutional bodies, structures and operative forces that coordinates the policies and activities on the theme of defence and civil protection, and that acts on a local, provincial, regional and state level, performing the basic functions of forecast, prevention, rescue, help and then the post-emergency phase as well as the return to normal in the stricken areas. (1)
The FLOOD-serv project can contribute to the community not only in the emergency management area, which is processed through established procedures and protocols, but also in prevention and territorial monitoring before a flood event occurs.
Moreover, it contributes to the ‘back to normal’ phase when the actual emergency is over but there are still difficulties and uncertainties. This focus of the pilot project has been discussed, not just between the project partner and their external consultants, but also with the Civil Protection operatives, who support and encourage any experiment and research which can give useful indications for the ‘pre’ and ‘post’ emergency phases.
In the last few months the Genoa team has worked on the first experimentation phase by organizing a ‘pre-test’ of citizens’ interaction. The ‘pre-test’ started at the beginning of November and lasted till the end of December 2017. It was carried out by volunteers and citizens marked by professional expertise and territorial knowledge. The goal was to understand, together with the administration, what and how citizens could communicate with the Administration for a better prevention of flood risks. Specifically, users were asked to experiment communication through an Open Source app, modified by the Geopaparazzi app for the gathering of data on the field, and personalised by the Geomorfolab of the University of Genoa (DAD Department) in an app for signalling potential crisis spots in case of hydrogeological risks, provocatively called MUGUGN.APP.
This smartphone app has two operational procedures: one ‘free’, where the user can insert a text and can include a photo; and one ‘guided’ which, through a series of drop-down menus, guides the user to compile an ad hoc scheme to interface directly with the actual data scheme of the City of Genoa Geo-portal.
Both modalities answer to the main goal of this early test. They test the possibility of a future two-way communication citizen/administration. On the one hand, the ‘guided’ information from the public is operational to the optimization of the interoperability with the current data structure of the Municipality (Comune); on the other hand, the possibility of ‘free’ information from the public allows to discover unknown or unconsidered situations, and to use a language in which is easier for the ordinary citizen to describe what he or she has seen. Moreover, it also allows the possibility of free suggestions or ‘mugugni’ (2) on the topic, useful to the institution responsible for monitoring the potential crisis areas.
In this early stage several kinds of users were involved such as:
- civic associations and private citizens from the three Municipalities (Boroughs) involved in the test pilot (Media Val Bisagno, Bassa Val Bisagno e Medio Levante), informed and trained through a public meeting in the Bassa Val Bisagno Municipio’s hall.;
- secondary school pupils, through formal lessons and practical exercise with the app;
- university students, through direct information; and
- professionals, through ad hoc meetings in the Ordine degli Ingegneri (Professional Association of Engineers) of the Genoa’s province.
This ‘pre-test’ activity was based on the concept that any insight coming from the evaluation and analysis of data and procedure would be quite useful in designing a method for the active involvement of citizens. This method will be used in the next experimentation phase of the platform and the services connected with it.
In the following months the platform developed by FLOOD-serv technical partners will be tested in all pilot cities of the project. For this reason, reflecting carefully on the data gleaned by the ‘pre-test’ would enable the working group of the Municipality of Genoa (Commune di Genova) and the external consultants to better structure the real test phase.
At this point, the modest participation of users involved through the training meetings in the “pre-test’ revealed some weaknesses which will be encountered during the actual platform testing. However, the lessons learnt during this “pre-test” phase are considered as strengths for the upcoming actions.
It is clear that on the one hand, it is necessary to identify new stakeholders interested in the problem and willing to really engage in the platform testing. On the other hand, we should ascertain that the tools to be used in communicating between citizens and the administration must be user-friendly and easy to understand so as to catch the attention of the users, like the interest and curiosity for the mugugnapp during the ‘pre-test’.
Genoa’s choice to focus on citizens’ involvement in regard to hydrogeological risk prevention is neither caused by a strong local tradition of citizens’ participation, nor motivated by a particularly intense time of active involvement.
Given the importance of involving citizens in the preservation of their territory and regarding the lack of national legislations about citizens’ participation, the City of Genoa considers the FLOOD-serv European project as a good opportunity to experiment on citizens’ involvement processes in the handling of a public interesting topic like the pre- and post-hydrogeological event.
Moreover, the communication that has already established with the citizens during the pre-test phase, and will further expand during testing the FLOOD-serv platform, could act as a useful communication channel among them and the Civil Protection during emergencies. In this context effective procedures and operational methodologies in pre and post emergency situations could also be defined.
Concluding, projects funded by the European Commission like the FLOOD-serv, can be seen as a great opportunity to confront several different aspects of citizens’ involvement, without omitting the fact that can assist in raising the awareness of the local community about:
- its own territory and culture;
- the use of social media for monitoring risks and crisis events;
- flood risks and the ways of preserving the local environment.
(1) The Civil Protection Department was established by the Law 24/2/1992 n.225 for the national level prevision, prevention, management and the follow-up to calamities and disasters both natural and human, emergency situation. It also has the responsibility for Hydrogeological Risk and Forest Firefighting. Through the years its structure has been changed, especially on the topic of local responsibilities, but not its goal and duties.
(2) Typical expression of the Ligurian dialect. It means the local inclination to whine in every occasion and express discomfort and protest; a rather annoying attitude on the long run but usually indulged as typical local trait.