Extending the reach of disaster relief from fire to flood

Different disasters require different responses and, in turn, multiple technological solutions, which is a costly duplication of resources. REMSAT II, a project supported by ESA's Telecommunications Department, has, however, successfully extended its forest fire fighting capabilities to the domain of flood relief, saving both resources and lives.

Already demonstrated to be a big success in aiding Canadian fire-fighters during 2004 (Related news: Using satellites in the fight against forest fires), Phase 3 of the REMSAT II (Real-time Emergency Management via Satellite) Project expands the capabilities of the earlier system. Phase 3 has now completed trials in the western Canadian province of British Columbia to demonstrate its effectiveness in aiding relief during times of flood.

The purpose of the trials was to determine if REMSAT II could adapt to and enhance the British Columbian disaster response structure as well as communicate in remote areas. Floods caused by heavy rainfall and overflowing rivers can cover a much wider area than forest fires. To provide aid in these events, command and control must be enhanced. Phase 3 of REMSAT II achieved this by providing radio interoperability between provincial agencies and local governments. Although the basic architecture of REMSAT remained unchanged (Related links: REMSAT II Fire and medical), enhancements were made which allowed improved support to management functions such as updating situation reports.

Equally important was REMSAT II's ability to track the location of field staff and their equipment, who must often work in remote areas and dangerous situations where roads or bridges can be destroyed.

Command and operational communications were supported from a local command centre to a provincial command centre located several hundred kilometres away.

These centres mapped the progress of the disaster and provided up-to-date situation reports. Both digital still and video images were fed back to these centres from crews working in the field who in turn received much needed technical assistance.

The trials proved that the equipment could be quickly and easily set-up and could operate with stand alone sustainability providing both high-speed satellite communications and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).

REMSAT II performed well, providing enrichments and new functionality to the existing response mechanisms. Real-time tracking of personnel enhanced safety and the reporting and mapping improved the situational awareness of command staff.

REMSAT not only improved on previous methods, but added the ability to geo-reference incidents, so that command staff and field crews could pinpoint exact locations. Video-streaming also proved valuable.

The British Columbia Provincial Emergency Program found considerable and immediate application for REMSAT II in not just the flood domain but also other emergency management applications. The program intends to apply REMSAT II to its existing emergency management systems.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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