PROACTIVE: For an Inclusive CBRNe Preparedness and Response


By Grigore Havarneanu

PROACTIVE coordinator Grigore Havarneanu discusses the main results and outputs of the four-year-long project to make CBRNe preparedness and response more inclusive.

PROACTIVE stands for “PReparedness against CBRNE threats through cOmmon Approaches between security praCTItioners and the VulnerablE civil society”. It was a Research and Innovation Action funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 program. The project started in May 2019, ended in August 2023, and had a budget of €4.97m.

PROACTIVE worked in line with the EU Action Plan to enhance preparedness against CBRN security risks, and with the overall Security Union approach to fighting crime, terrorism, and improving societal resilience. The main objective of the project was to enhance preparedness for and response to a CBRNe incident through a better harmonization of procedures between various categories of practitioners, and a better articulation of the needs of vulnerable citizen groups. The end goal was to make CBRNe crisis preparedness and response fair, accessible, and inclusive. 

For more than 4.5 years the project brought together CBRNe practitioners and civil society, including representatives of vulnerable groups. This human-centered approach to CBRNe preparedness made PROACTIVE unique, a big achievement in the world of European research and innovation. 

Coordinated by a consortium led by the Security Division of the International Union of Railways (UIC) in Paris, it included 15 partners from 12 countries, among which law enforcement agencies, transport and health practitioners, academia, and SMEs. 

Beyond the consortium, the project liaised and engaged with more than 100 practitioner organizations from 25 countries, as well as more than 50 civil society organizations from 20 countries. 

Including Vulnerable Citizens in Training Exercises

PROACTIVE ran a tabletop exercise in France in April 2022 with more than 40 participants from 15 different countries. During the event practitioners and civil society came together to learn about one another’s expectations. The scenario, which involved a CBRNe incident on a regional passenger train, helped to identify gaps between first responders’ intended actions and vulnerable citizens’ needs.  

Then, together with the EU H2020 project eNOTICE and their training center partners, PROACTIVE co-organized three field training exercises in three EU countries: Germany (May 2022), Italy (November 2022), and Belgium (May 2023). Instead of the usual practice of using actors or off-duty first responders as playing the role of the victims, members of local communities were recruited as role play victim volunteers in these exercises.

The methodology adopted for the planning and execution of the three field exercises considered existing practices and standards, and provided the flexibility to meet the diverse requirements of three field exercises.  

The exercises were conceived as successive learning loops and therefore each time had a larger scale and growing complexity. They allowed PROACTIVE to repeatedly study the interactions between CBRNe practitioners and members of civil society, to evaluate the acceptability and usability of existing procedures and tools used by first responders, and test new tools developed by the project. 

PROACTIVE focused on the groups of people who are expected to need additional support from CBRNe practitioners, and, therefore, at least 50% of role play volunteers in each exercise represented a vulnerable group.

A blind person taking part in a PROACTIVE exercise, © PROACTIVE

This way, first responders could see how well their SOPs consider the needs of vulnerable groups, offering an opportunity to address mistakes or failures in a safe environment and ensuring that the needs of all citizens will be better met in a real-life CBRNe incident. Role play volunteers also benefited by increasing their preparedness for CBRNe incidents, leading to an overall increase in societal resilience. All the developments were conducted in compliance with European legal and ethical requirements, and were closely monitored by an External Ethics Advisory Board.

A non-ambulant person taking part in a PROACTIVE exercise, © PROACTIVE

Core Recommendations and Key Outputs 

After an implementation period of 52 months, PROACTIVE delivered evidence-based core recommendations and co-created easy-to-use outputs that will hopefully allow CBRNe practitioners and policymakers to improve societal resilience. These include: 


  1. Ensure CBRNe SOPs and guidance documents are uniform in instruction and evidence-based regarding communication, including likely public behavior and recommendations on how to enhance public compliance.
  2. Include the needs and expectations of civil society and especially those of vulnerable groups, as well as plans on how to engage with such groups (e.g. relating to service animals or mobility aids). 

Better Cooperation 

  1. Ensure roles and responsibilities of all practitioners are clear both inter and intra organizationally. 
  2. Develop systems of joint cooperation between practitioners. 
  3. Increase cooperation between CSOs and CBRNe practitioners. 

Better Trainings, Public Awareness, and Public Communication 

  1. CBRNe training should happen more often and should include CSOs and persons with vulnerabilities and their carers, and as such could be designed to challenge the capabilities and capacities of first responders to manage diverse groups of people. 
  2. Implement information campaigns and education to build CBRNe public knowledge to increase awareness and do so in an accessible way. 
  3. Ensure communication about incidents is done in an inclusive and accessible manner. 


  1. During the response phase, keep significant others together and actively involve caregivers in supporting vulnerable persons. 
  2. Attach photos to practitioners’ Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that shows them without protective gear to reduce fear levels in the affected population. 
  3. Develop a brief medical triage checklist that may be used to expeditiously identify potential vulnerabilities among those affected by a CBRNe incident. 

Crisis Communication System 

The PROACTIVE CBRNe Crisis Communication System is an innovative response tool that improves two-way communication between civil society and first responders, and increases preparedness through its CBRNe Library. It is composed of three tools: the Web Collaborative Platform for law enforcement agencies (LEAs), the Modular App for Practitioners, and the Mobile App for the public.

Scan the QR codes to download the PROACTIVE CBRNe Crisis Communication System mobile apps, © PROACTIVE

Pre-Incident Public Information Materials 

PROACTIVE co-created CBRNe awareness materials as a key component of the toolkit for civil society. Final results from the work conducted in developing these materials demonstrated there is a positive view of the PROACTIVE Pre-Incident Public Information Materials. They can effectively influence knowledge, understanding, and confidence in undertaking recommended behaviors in the long term. The PROACTIVE public information materials are an open resource and can be further adapted by any organization or government. 

Aide Memoire for Training Exercises Involving Vulnerable Groups 

Based on lessons learned from the field activities, PROACTIVE developed an Aide Memoire for training exercises involving vulnerable groups. It is intended as a high-level guide for exercise planners to ensure the needs of European citizens are met, especially those who may be vulnerable. The Aide Memoire should help exercise planners prepare for diverse citizen participation in their exercise and training activities, contributing to a long-term, positive impact.

Cover of the PROACTIVE Aide Memoire, © PROACTIVE

Policy Making Toolkit 

The policy making toolkit is composed of one whitepaper and three policy briefs. These publications highlight what is lacking in good crisis communication and how this can be improved. They include guidance on considering the needs of vulnerable citizens before, during and after a CBRNe event; the management of children in CBRNe incidents and recommendations for civil society organizations working with minors; and actions to facilitate the interaction between first responders and civil society organizations before, during, and after a CBRNe event. 

The Way Forward 

The PROACTIVE research and innovation results along with the project’s actionable resources will help end-users take the project’s impact beyond the life of the project. The results of the project bring to light current gaps and could be further carried on in various standardization technical committees. Some recommendations also have close ties with existing standards, such as the ISO 22395 – Guidelines for supporting vulnerable persons in an emergency.

Click on this link to access all the aforementioned materials on the PROACTIVE website. As project coordinator, UIC Security Division is currently developing strategies to enhance cooperation between specialized first responders and operators of critical infrastructures such as railways. Click on this link to learn more.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 832981. Views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

Grigore Havarneanu (PhD) is a Traffic and Transport Psychologist with international experience as researcher, project manager and lecturer. He is Senior Security Research Advisor at the International Union of Railways in Paris, where he is involved in European research projects and leads EU-funded project proposals. He coordinated the PROACTIVE project and conducts applied psychology and human factors research to improve the safety, security, and resilience of land transport. E-mail – [email protected]

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