Conference on civil protection and satellites gives results

Palais du Luxembourg
Palais du Luxembourg
11 May 2005

The International Conference on Civil Protection and Space Telecommunications presented the results of a survey conducted amongst various civil protection authorities. A summary analysis of the answers to the questionnaire and some recommendations is now available online.

The aim was to arrive at a Europe-wide consensus on the actions required to enable maximum use of space telecommunications in civil protection.

Participants in the one-day event, held at the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris on 29 April 2005, included representatives of civil protection authorities from Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Finland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Bulgaria and France as well as industrial personnel from various ESA member states.

As new threats continue to arise, citizens expect a high degree of security to be maintained, and civil protection forms a critical element of this defence. Against this background, the French Directorate of Civil Defence and Security (DDSC) and the European Space Agency (ESA) are seeking a consensus on actions required to enable full use of space communications in civil protection. The French National Fire Service Officers’ College (ENSOSP) and the Euro-Mediterranean Network for Information and Training in Risk Management (REMIFOR) took part in the organisation of the conference.

Conference attendees were of the opinion that standardisation of processes will be necessary, in addition to the adoption of common technologies. All participants saw the need for a European, region-wide approach to civil protection, with harmonisation between the various projects and transmission systems being highly desirable.

Responses to the questionnaire revealed that satellite telecommunications systems are not regarded as complete alternatives to terrestrial solutions, but as complementary solutions for overcoming the limitations of land-based technologies. An integrated system combining terrestrial and satellite components and providing mobile, broadband and data relay services would be a key asset for a pan-European crisis management capability.

Colonel Gilles Bazir, Director of ENSOSP
Colonel Gilles Bazir, Director of the French National School of Fireman Officers (ENSOSP)

Satellite telecommunications provide the only solution where existing terrestrial infrastructure either does not exist or is unavailable during an emergency. Its coverage, worldwide connectivity, high bandwidth and robustness make it an excellent choice for civil defence purposes, and not just when disaster strikes. The conference noted that the decision to deploy such an infrastructure is a matter of political will and ought not to be restricted by commercial considerations. Mr Jean-Francois Cazenave from Telecom Sans Frontieres pointed out succinctly that: "Satellites save lives."

Early warning concepts seem to occupy a key role, not just in the questionnaire responses but also at the conference. Participants emphasised the need for a compatible and standard communication system in Europe, in order to provide citizens with the information they need in case of an emergency.

Another point of shared interest was the need for common training and distance learning. Underlying many responses to the questionnaire is a genuine interest in the existing and future repercussions of the need to harmonise training and information distribution across Europe.

Gilles Bazir, Director of the French National Fire Service Officers’ College (ENSOSP), described their experience with satellite based training courses for their fire-fighters. "We have a strong digital divide in France and many fire-fighters don't have broadband access in the rural areas. We offer them distance learning courses via satellite, whether they are in France or Morocco."

Mr Giuseppe Viriglio
Mr Giuseppe Viriglio, Director of European Union and Industrial Programmes at ESA

Summarizing the event, Mr Giuseppe Viriglio, Director of European Union and Industrial Programmes (D/EUI), pointed out that: "A common and integrated approach to civil protection in Europe is still missing. Know-how is not distributed and there are no common tools or interoperability in place yet."

"ESA will continue to demonstrate the capabilities of satellites and ask for a 'Civil Protection via Satellite Programme' at the next Ministerial Conference", concluded Mr Viriglio.

The German, Italian, Cypriot and Finnish civil protection authorities have shown an interest in creating a dossier entitled "SATCOM and RISK" and have invited the French civil protection authority and ESA to bring it to the attention of the General Directors of civil protection at their next meeting on 12 and 13 May in Luxembourg.

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