In this interview, Dr Michael Mast, second in command for the special Information and Communication service (IuK) of the Bavarian Red Cross (BRK) emergency service units, talks about his work, the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and how communications help his staff and volunteers keep Bavaria safe.
Which tasks define your role in the Bavarian Red Cross?
In principle, the tasks of the Information and Communication service (IuK) include everything related to professional and secure communications technology.
Many emergency units work closely when on duty. Communication is usually the most important factor in conducting a mission effectively and smoothly. Ensuring that the staff is skilled and trained, and that they can use modern communications technology is therefore the core task of the special service (Fachdienst).
We also help operations management with any questions they have.
Today, there are around 180,000 Red Cross units in Bavaria. A substantial part of these are in the emergency services. These units need to be familiar with using the equipment and must go through regular professional training.
The importance of the flow of information has become clear during the Covid-19 crisis. In addition, it is important to be able to distinguish between correct and false information. Which sources do you trust?
Our work is very much shaped by the information that institutes and authorities make available to us, both on the state and district/municipal level. We apply the numbers to your daily work and derive forecasts from them. When there is a flood, for example, we can see the danger and evaluate the water levels, but during a pandemic, the enemy is invisible. But even then, we can evaluate the infection numbers and reproductive rates and use the information from surveys.
I think that proper communication and transparency about the figures helps motivate people to accepting the government measures and decisions.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) is the government’s central scientific institution in the field of biomedicine. It is one of the most important bodies for the safeguarding of public health in Germany.
Do the organizations have enough material available or have there been bottlenecks or delays in procurement?
Before we go into a field mission, our number one priority is to protect our own units. It would not help anyone if we put ourselves in danger and failed in our tasks.
Keeping that in mind, the whole BRK organization was in a challenging situation when the pandemic first broke out. Some suppliers stopped completely for a while, so it was impossible to procure certain hygiene products. Thanks to great efforts by the Bavarian BRK association, we managed to create a temporary supply of critical materials. We now feel that suppliers – including those from abroad – are picking up speed again. However, this crisis has made us very careful about being too optimistic about any numbers - what we say today may not be valid tomorrow.
How important are volunteers in coping with the crisis? What must or can be done to get enough volunteers in Germany or in the state of Bavaria?
Volunteer workers in Bavaria are very important, and they are well recognized by the society in general. Fortunately there are still enough people who want to volunteer, and we are grateful to everyone who decides to help. Volunteers are the backbone of society. They are important not only in crisis situations - they play a major role in our everyday lives, whether in the fire brigade, at the technical assistance organization THW or in social services.
There is even an independent group called “Team Bayern,” consisting of people who agree to help when needed, but who do not want to belong to any organization. They offer their help in many situations, whether in the event of an accident, a disaster or even just as part of the extended neighbourhood aid.
For example, volunteers from Team Bayern were a critical part of response during the floods in the city of Passau and in a fishing village near Deggendorf a few years ago.
It is important that people understand that only together are we strong!
How to make volunteering even more attractive or sustainably support volunteers?
Most volunteers are not motivated by monetary compensation. But there are two conceivable ways to make volunteer work even more attractive. For example, after a certain number of years as a volunteer, the person could receive governmental pension points or gain easier access to certain university courses or studies in other educational institutions.
How do emergency services communicate with each other? Which devices, apps and communication systems do they use?
As a rule, each unit uses the tools they are trained to use for a certain mission - and of course, the tools that are available!
Smartphone apps such as WhatsApp play an important role today. The question is, will there be a secure application in the future for mission critical uses in Bavaria for messaging and collaboration?
Some solutions can temporarily be made available to us for free by providers such as Heinekingmedia (Stashcat) or Airbus (Tactilon Agnet 500). During the free trial period we can evaluate the solution and also better specify our requirements for longer term use.
We want a permanent solution that meets our needs and takes a holistic approach. Customization plays an important role here - our requirements must be introduced in a solution oriented way!
Which challenges do you see in alerting (paging) the emergency services in Bavaria or in your district?
There are no major challenges. We currently have a good single-frequency network in use for paging, based on analogue radio communication. We will switch to BOS digital radio based paging over TETRA in the future.
Bavaria will follow the approach of “soft migration” which lets municipalities replace their paging devices gradually. In the beginning, the analogue system and the new paging system will coexist. This helps guarantee that we can always alert emergency responders to duty throughout Bavaria.
How do you interpret the measures in the current situation? What needs to be done to be well prepared for any further crisis?
There is a clear flow of communication with the general public via a variety of media, including websites, social media, newspapers, TV and radio.
It is essential that politicians clearly explain their actions to the people so that they do not misunderstand or get the wrong impression.
My personal point of view in my function as a Stv. Leiter des Landesfachdienstes für Information und Kommunikation is: "I think the measures are appropriate at the moment!"
IuK Days Münnerstadt
IuK Days Münnerstadt is planned to take place 11-13 September 2020 in Münnerstadt. The IuK Days' theme is: “Bringing manufacturers and users together.”
The event is an informal exchange designed to be a “win-win” for both sides. Manufacturers can learn which topics the users are concerned about while also having the opportunity to present their latest innovations.
-- Further reading -
Explore modern solutions for fire and rescue, including improved situational awareness.
If you want to know more about paging, read more about the P8GR paging solution.
Or take a look at the Tactilon Agnet solution which can bring secure group communication to your smartphone.