Interview: David Oliver speaks to Andrea D’Angelo, President of SAFE.

CBNW:  Can you provide a history of SAFE and how it became involved countering CBRN risks?

AD: SAFE (Security and Freedom for Europe) is a not-for-profit Foundation aiming at promoting high-impact activities in the rule of law, security and governance sector, with a focus on Europe, Western Balkans, North Africa and Middle East.

Its staff include 25 specialists covering areas of security and rule of law, over 25 projects with a global value of more than €10 million, and operations in 23 countries.

Its role in countering CBRN risks was enhanced in 2019, when SAFE joined the Italian CBRN-P3 CLUSTER. It coordinates CBRN project initiatives with civil and military agencies, experts and industry leaders in R&D for the CBRNe sector and universities and research centres.

SAFE is a support body for the decisions and the practical and operational implementation of policies decided in political and legislative terms. It strives to make CBRNe research less expensive, more widespread and interconnected, by breaking down the barriers between public and private sectors for training, testing and capacity building and encouraging collaboration.

CBNW: Can you explain the aims of the RESIST project?

AD: REsilience Support for critical Infrastructures through Standardised Training (RESIST) of CBRNe is an EC-ISF funded project. It engages public and private operators of 10 European CIs (Critical Infrastructures) in the set-up and testing of a CBRN capacity building programme for the creation of CBRN Intervention Groups.

These include private operators, trained and equipped to operate in CBRN-contaminated environments, and maintaining a CI operational level while coordinating intervention of first responders.

The project began in November 2019. Despite limitations imposed by the pandemic, it was able to train at the Italian Joint NBC Defence School 98 operators from 10 CIs (five Italian and five Romanian) over five 36-hour courses.

A real-life CBRN exercise will soon be organised to test the skills acquired by the trained staff and assess any weaknesses of each CI’s security plan to respond to CBRN events.

The project will end in April 2022, with a presentation to CEN (SCK-CEN, the Belgian nuclear research centre) of the CBRN standard training performed and lessons learned for the design of an EU level voluntary standard.

CBNW: What are the aims of the TRANSTUN project?

AD: The TRANSTUN project is a Public-Private-Partnership Initiative co-funded by the EU Internal Security Fund Programme.

It comprises partners from Italy, France, Belgium, and Spain and, with a two-year €1 million-plus budget, it aims to raise awareness and enhance response of tunnel operators during CBRN events.

TRANSTUN will assess the CBRN risk in cross-border tunnels and draft CBRN Operational Guidelines concerning both equipment and procedures. It will undertake real-life exercises involving more than 250 players from France and Spain, as well as observers from all around Europe.

This project is a significant example of Public-Private-Partnerships aimed at establishing synergies between multiple actors involved in emergency response. It outlines the importance of a clear definition of roles and responsibilities between first responders and the CI Operators defined as immediate responders.

CBNW: How does the EU CBRN Technical Assistance in Lebanon project relate to the EU CoE P73 Lebanon project?

AD: Launched in 2018, the EU Technical Assistance on CBRNe risks mitigation in Lebanon was a three-year project with 77 weeks of training activities, reaching 1,100 trainees and creating 37 new CBRN instructors among both civilian and military trained agencies.

The capacity of the agencies was also increased by the provision of specialised equipment worth €1.2 million.

The main beneficiary of the EU CBRN CoE P73 project was the Governmental Guard, in charge of the protection of the Prime Minister in Lebanon and of the government headquarters.

SAFE leads the Lebanese component with an overall budget of €1.3 million, of which €350.000 was dedicated to the provision of training materials. To date, the project has successfully implemented over 12 training sessions for the Governmental Guard, has delivered over 38 standard operating procedures, and three feasibility studies for ballistic protection, CB detection and filtering. It has implemented two exercises with agencies trained by the EU TA projects.

The project, under leadership of CEN, also implements activities for the protection of critical infrastructures from CBRN events in Jordan and Iraq.

As a result of the success of a large exercise in May 2021 within the EU TA framework and in cooperation with the EU CBRN CoE P73, SAFE organised the ARZ 2021 Counter Terrorism Field Exercise in December 2021. This was supported by the EU CBRN CoE Initiative, UNICRI and ISTC, and coordinated by the Lebanese CBRN Commission and Prime Minister Office.

Both projects provided medium- and long-term support in the aftermath of the 4 August 2020 explosion in Beirut. Immediate response was provided by both projects for supporting the emergency operations on the site as well as providing additional protective and decontamination equipment.

Longer-term support was based on assessment of chemical storages surrounding Beirut and the seaport to ensure that the contamination level was contained.

CBNW: Where does SAFE’s CBRN testing and training take place?

AD: There is a dedicated training facility at SAFE premises in Soave. It also uses a former military base at Calvarina since May 2021.

Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) courses have been implemented bimonthly in cooperation with the Italian MoD and the European Security and Defence College, as well as tests and exercises conducted by the Italian Armed Forces.

CBNW:  Can you detail the RESIST project training syllabus at the NBC school at Rieti?

AD: The RESIST training syllabus is defined by the project partners after a Training Needs Assessment and starting from available training material, adapting it to the specific context of CI operators.

Thematic Modules have been defined to meet the requirements the training need assessment that begins from the horizontal training needs common to all CI sectors, and specifies further training if necessary.

Teaching Modules are designed and integrated within a CI operational context, and are meant to be interfaced with the emergency plans already present in the CI organisation.

The last RESIST training session of 2021 took place in October – when 20 operators from Italian and Romanian CIs were trained at the Italian Joint Defence NBC school in Rieti.

CBNW: Can you detail the VR applications to CBRN training that SAFE is developing?

AD: The Virtual Enhanced Reality for inTeroperable traIning of CBRN military and civilian Operators (VERTIgO) project is funded by the EU EDIDP (European Defence Industrial Development Programme) and led by SAFE.

A European Exercises Service Platform will be developed along with hardware solutions – integrating relevant CBRN scenarios compatible with the VR applications.

In addition, a CBRN VR mask, together with a VR headset, will be prototyped and tested to train military and civilian first responders to respond to CRBN events based on real-life scenarios.

The VR based system can recreate highly formal, realistic and stressful training environments in which trainees can be fully immersed. The software and training scenarios can be adapted to the needs of a team or individual, due to adaptive and interactive scenarios.

Augmented reality elements support these scenarios by including automatic moving, actions and dialogues for Non Player Characters (NPC) and automatic evaluation, which leverages the eye-tracking features of the headset and complex dynamics of VR.

The VR element of VERTIgO expands existing CBRN training by broadening the reach of the audience, improving cost efficiency and offering capacity to easily reproduce complex and diverse scenarios in a safe environment.

As a result, a new, integrated, effective and efficient training system to appropriately train personnel on CBRN risks before their deployment will be created.

In parallel to VERTIgO, SAFE will be leading a forthcoming NATO STO Research Technical G froup to study, design, build and deploy a CBRN XR Training Platform. The project will start in 2022, and will run for three years with participation of military actors and research centres from Italy, USA, Belgium, Latvia, Germany, UK, Sweden and Slovenia.

 CBNW: Which are the incoming challenges for SAFE in the CBRN domain?

AD: 2021 has been a really productive and a year of growth for SAFE in the CBRN domain. Even though some of our ongoing projects are coming to an end, new initiatives will be launched by 2022.

The MEDI-THEFT consortium, coordinated by the national regulatory authority on medicines (AIFA), is composed of national health authorities, law enforcement, drug regulatory authorities, anti-counterfeiting and security systems organisations, and specialised research centres.

CBNW: How is SAFE financed?

AD: Fondazione SAFE is a private not-for-profit organisation, and all its funding derives from its individual funding members, and the income generated by its projects.

Our light structure allows to operate with reduced overheads, guaranteeing best value for money for the implementation of no-profit actions which allows SAFE to work on multiple projects, either fully funded by donors or co-funded by SAFE itself.

Advisory and consultancy activities ensure sustainability and availability of resources for investments such as the important strategic one in its training and testing facilities.

SAFE has expertise in the set-up and management of both strategic and operational projects, in particular those funded by international donors such as the European Commission, OSCE, UN or private entities. SAFE always searches for exciting new projects which could generate real impact in the security sector.

All funds received are re-invested through self-funded initiatives to promote the SAFE missionrelated to the security sector, as well as innovated local social projects engaging vulnerable groups, youth, environmental protection NGOs, and public institutions.

 Andrea D’Angelo is Team Leader, Technical Assistance on CBRN Risks Mitigation in Lebanon. A CBRN and security expert with over ten years’ experience in the management and supervision of complex projects, he has led over 50 technical assistance projects funded by the EU and other international donors.

Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) is conducted at Calvarini.