FORMATEX23: A full scale multi-national exercise for NATECH events


The Exercise Director of FORMATEX23, Mag. Gottfried Kerschbaummayr, updates Anna Paternnosto on the progress and goals of this Union Civil Protection Mechanism funded project.

What is FORMATEX23?

FORMATEX23 stands for Full Operational Response to Major Accidents triggered by Natural Hazards – full scale EXercise 2023 and is a Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) funded project kicked off in 2022 which has the final goal of conducting a full-scale multinational exercise. The exercise involves national and regional emergency response organizations and structures as well as specific emergency response elements to improve and strengthen cooperation among European members in the context of major technological disasters triggered by natural hazards, the so-called NATECH events.

The FORMATEX23 project addresses the scenario of intense flood events in the greater Linz area and alongside the Danube leading to fires and explosions in various industrial plants with the subsequent release of toxic gases in the city of Linz. Furthermore, the scenario is aggravated by water pollution caused by chemical spills from the Chemiepark Link and Voestalpine steelworks. The scenario highlights the potential threat of extreme natural events for critical infrastructure specifically when dealing with hazardous substances.   

The final FORMATEX23 exercise taking place in September 2023 is planned to involve Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) Modules active in the field of CBRN hazards, as well as technical experts that will fill the operational gap in the local and national response organization. During the exercise, operators will get the opportunity to train in a multi-hazard environment together with local civil protection and emergency response experts. The exercise is focused not only on immediate response activities: FORMATEX23 also aims to strengthen the interface between the response and recovery phase by further elaborating documentation and handover capabilities of the response organizations.

FORMATEX23 is led by the Upper Austrian Fire Brigade Association and counts on the participation of the following consortium members: Resilience Solutions International (Austria), Industrial Risk and Safety Solutions (Austria), Universität der Bundeswehr München (Germany), NCT Consultants (The Netherlands), CBRN Module of the Department of Emergency Situations (Romania), General Directorate for Civil Protection and Crisis Management (France), German Analytical Task Force, Dutch Environmental Assessment Unit, Balt Flood Combat (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia). With 10 consortium members, 26 organizations and 335 participants involved in the exercise, FORMATEX23 constitutes a significant multinational effort in the framework of European Civil Protection.


The different stages of the project

The design stage of the project extended throughout the first four months of 2022 during which a FORMATEX23 delegation visited the DOMINO22 exercise to exchange lessons learned between the consortia. The planning stage was kickstarted with the CBRN Technology End User Workshop in May 2022 which took place at the Universität der Bundeswehr München in parallel to the NCT Europe event. The workshop gave participants the possibility to discuss and share experiences with leading CBRN technology and solution providers with the goal of aligning technological developments with operational needs. This activity was followed by the initial planning conference in Linz in June 2022 hosted by the Upper Austrian Fire Brigade Association. 

The NATECH disaster management workshop took place in mid-September 2022, hosting a conference aimed at giving participants from industry, emergency response, governmental bodies, and the scientific community the chance to exchange knowledge and lessons learned on natural hazards triggering technological disasters. The main planning conference in Linz in January 2023 concluded the planning stage and served as the final step for the consortium to plan the exercise execution based on the capabilities of each participating module. 

Dr. Cavallo from the European Commission while at the FORMATEX23 conference run in parallel to NCT Europe 2022 ©NCT

The conduction stage will start with the Table-Top Exercise in Linz from the 6th to the 8th of March 2023, followed by the Environmental Analytical Seminar and the Final Planning Conference in Linz in June 2023. Finally, the FORMATEX23 Full Scale Exercise will be performed in Linz from the 14th to the 16th of September 2023, leading to the lessons learned stage a month after with the post exercise discussion and a way forward seminar.

Anna Paternnosto had the opportunity to discuss some key aspects of the project with the Exercise Director, Mag. Gottfried Kerschbaummayr, Director of the Fire Service Association of Upper Austria.

As the Exercise director of FORMATEX23, can you highlight the unique points that make this project a crucial exercise to improve Europe’s preparedness for NATECH events? 

Since various national and international emergency organizations and authorities at all levels are involved in this project, one of the most important points is mutual understanding and cooperation. Through targeted cooperation, the various EU modules are familiarized, and mutual acceptance is sharpened. Through this intensive cooperation and the use of various technologies, the horizons of all participants are expanded. An important point is also the information and cooperation with local companies that could be affected by such a scenario. 

Dr. Hannes Kern while at initial planning conference in Linz ©Formatex23

Having kicked off this project at the beginning of 2022, what do you consider being the main achievements of the project during the last year? How will the months leading up to the filed exercise evolve? What are the main milestones to be achieved within the next months?

Many events are worth mentioning here. The most important points, however, are getting to know each other and the various side events. The mutual acquaintance was carried out with an internal kickoff event (online) with the consortium partners. Subsequently, the planning team had the opportunity to participate in the DOMINO 22 exercise in France as an observer. In the course of the NCT Europe (CBRN User WS) event in Munich, the project FORMATEX 23 was presented very well. 

In June 2022, the IPC followed as the first planning conference. Afterwards, a NATECH workshop was organized in St. Florian (Austria) with speakers from all over Europe. The months leading up to the exercise will be peppered with a plethora of planning tasks and meetings. On the one hand with the planning of the scenarios and on the other hand with the planning of Real-Life Support (RLS).

The most important milestones in the coming months will be the following:

  • Planning of scenarios
  • Implementation of the Main Planning Conference (MPC)
  • Planning and implementation of the Table Top Exercise (TTX)
  • Planning and implementation of a NATECH WS
  • Implementation of the Final Planning Conference (FPC) in June 2023

FORMATEX23 welcomes project partners from Austria, Germany, France, Romania, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. In your opinion, what are the main challenges related to multinational cooperation in a large-scale field exercise? How will FORMATEX23 address the topic of interoperability amongst multinational units?

One of the biggest challenges is the distance between the different organizations and thus the coordination. Meetings can therefore often only be held online. Only at the planning conferences you meet physically. Another hurdle was sometimes the language barrier. Currently, of course, the general crisis in Europe (pandemic, energy, economy, finance, war in the Ukraine) is a problem. The diversity of the modules in terms of size, level of training and self-sufficiency also poses challenges for the planning team.

“The industry should be involved in the planning cycle right from the start. This is the only way to create mutual trust and acceptance. If cooperation is built in a sound way in peacetime, it will also work in times of crisis”

To counteract this, a monthly update (online) is carried out every month. Here, various problems, concerns and activities of the consortium partners are dealt with. To underline the importance of this project, a lot of side events have been and are held. 

Being focused on the scenario of a chemical spill, FORMATEX23 deals with the topic of public-private cooperation, specifically between the chemical industry and emergency response organizations. How will public-private cooperation be addressed during the project? And how does FORMATEX23 aim at improving the exchange of information in this field?  

It is very important to contact the companies that could be affected by such a scenario and to clearly communicate the aim of an exercise within this framework. The industry should be involved in the planning cycle right from the start. This is the only way to create mutual trust and acceptance. If cooperation is built in a sound way in peacetime, it will also work in times of crisis. Disaster relief workers always say that it is important to know heads in crises. The opportunity is also used to update emergency plans. Thus, acceptance and security can be created through mutual sensitization.

Would you like to add any last comments or remarks?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all FORMATEX 23 partners for their services and preparatory work to date. Often times the really important work is done in the background. 

I wish everyone involved all the best for the very intense upcoming months. I am confident that together we will plan and conduct a good exercise. I ask all consortium partners to do their best to successfully complete the FORMATEX 23 project.

About the interviewee:

Mag. Gottfried Kerschbaummayr is the Director of the Fire Service Association of Upper Austria (OÖLFV) and also the Exercise Director within the FORMATEX23 project.

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