Powering the EEAS’ Consular Crisis Management
Effective and collaborative crisis response: Exonaut powers European External Action Service’s next-generation Consular Online tool
Challenge: Provide the European External Action Service (EEAS) with an effective tool that will improve EU member states’ collaborative response to consular crisis management, no matter where they occur around the world, while ensuring sensitive data remains secure.
Solution: Exonaut® Incident and Crisis Manager powers the EEAS’s Consular Online 2.0 Tool. The mobile and web-based system includes everything from real-time message boards and notifications, to interactive geotagged maps of embassies, hospitals, assembly points, etc., to automated incident reports and custom dashboards.
Benefits: Member States, their embassies abroad, as well as EU Delegations can receive live reports, notifications and dashboard data during a crisis to facilitate real-time information sharing and consular assistance for EU citizens abroad. Sensitive data in the system remains secure.
Customer: The EEAS is the European Union’s diplomatic service. With over 4,000 employees based in Brussels and 140 EU Delegations around the world, the EEAS helps the EU’s Foreign Affairs Chief carry out the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.
Background: The EEAS’s legacy tool needed updating to facilitate more effective, mobile and secure collaboration on a global scale when responding to consular crises. However, with over 1,000 users in hundreds of embassies and EU delegation abroad, it had to be intuitive and provide the features users want and need in order for them to fully utilize it.
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The European External Action Service (EEAS) manages the EU’s diplomatic relations to countries outside the bloc and conducts EU foreign & security policy. One key role is facilitating communication between EU member states as well as partner countries to provide the best possible support for EU citizens abroad in a crisis or emergency.
Collaborative crisis management
A typical example of how the EEAS collaborates during a crisis could be seen when the severity of the coronavirus pandemic became apparent. “Every EU Member State was advising its citizens to return home,” says 4C Strategies Consultant, Matthias Gull. “With different EU countries running repatriation flights, it was vital to coordinate this to ensure flights weren’t returning with lots of empty seats and only citizens from the airline’s country of origin. Information had to be shared quickly and collaboration among EEAS members had to run smoothly. Managing an evacuation on this scale – or indeed any scale in a crisis – is difficult if you are relying on contact via emails, spreadsheets and WhatsApp groups. Things run much smoother when you have a real-time, collaborative tool to support you.”
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Consular Online 2.0
The Exonaut powered Consular Online 2.0, which went live in 2019, provides next-generation collaborative crisis management response. The system delivers a trusted channel for discussing and sharing data on many diverse topics and subtopics. This can range from citizen numbers in a country, to ongoing crisis response actions, to travel advice in a country, to repatriation flights from a city. The entire system is permission-based, meaning different users and groups can either access, submit or edit consular information depending on their role-based access control. The information is then visualized in dashboards and maps, with advanced filtering capabilities for individual users. Additionally, countries without a diplomatic presence in a third country can get a clear understanding of a situation as well as rapid contact and support from other Member States and EU delegations.
”Exonaut’s Consular Online solution has provided the EEAS with innovative tools, interactive maps and dashboards to facilitate the coordination of consular assistance with EU Member States. We have worked closely with 4C Strategies to customise Exonaut for the evolving consular needs, including the COVID-19 response.”The European External Action Service
Secure access via web and phone apps
To provide the type of flexibility necessary in a crisis, EEAS members can access Consular Online from multiple channels including phone and web apps. “In a crisis, you may need to assist people `in the field´ where the only way to access information and keep up to date with the ongoing situation is via your mobile phone,” continues Gull. “Exonaut’s iOS and Android apps enable you to do this securely.” A dynamic chat function and automated topic notifications also keep users up to speed with situation updates during or leading up to a crisis. “If you need to evacuate citizens from a region where you don’t have a physical presence, being able to chat in real-time with other EEAS users and receive notifications when seats become available on a flight can make a big difference. Based on this information, you can quickly set the wheels in motion to get your citizens back home.”
Interactive maps with geotagging
Another new feature in Consular Online 2.0 is the interactive map with geotagging. This includes the addresses of the EEAS, Member State diplomatic missions (comprising embassies, consulates and honorary consulates) plus airports, hospitals, assembly points and other relevant map objects. The ability to geotag critical infrastructure and crisis events on a map is a really important feature in a crisis. If you have to direct people to a makeshift assembly point in a city, region, or country that you’re not familiar with, having the correct geolocation is essential for a successful outcome.”
Security in a system such as Consular Online is imperative, especially as it contains sensitive information concerning EU citizens. “Security is central to the Exonaut platform, which is why the software is accredited to a NATO secret and unclassified standard,” explains Senior Consultant Alex Fielding. “During Proof of Concept for EEAS we underwent information security audits and penetration tests based on ISO27000 and Cloud Security Alliance standards, among others. We continue to run regular security and penetration tests to ensure strict requirements are met.”
Incident and Crisis Management is just one of a number of available Exonaut modules, which includes risk management, business continuity, compliance, command and control, and training and exercises. The off-the-shelf solution is highly configurable to suit the needs of each customer, regardless of the module(s) in use. For instance, customized EEAS dashboards can visualize crisis response efforts with live data and maps of affected EU citizens. “A lot of government agencies and international organizations (link to articles) use 4C software and services to increase their operational readiness capabilities, secure business continuity and/or effectively manage risk or crises,” continues Fielding. “In the case of the EEAS, Exonaut Incident and Crisis Management was configured to meet current needs and continues to evolve as additional needs arise . Having said that, I believe there is scope for other Exonaut modules at EEAS and within the European Commission more broadly to manage major exercises in Exonaut, as was the case with Exercise Unified Response.”
Beyond Consular Online 2.0, delivery of Exonaut also included workshops, webinars and videos for users, while development and management of the service continue throughout the ongoing partnership. “With a thousand users around the world, it’s not practical to hold live training with everyone,” explains Gull. “We’ve worked hard to make the user experience as intuitive as possible and the training clear and simple – work that is ongoing as new users join and new features are rolled out. Of course, live online training is available, but in the main, rollout has been done with training and explainer videos.”
With the delivery of Consular Online 2.0, 4C Strategies is continuing to support international organizations as part of its mission to build a safer society.