Satellite initiative for civil protection

22 December 2006

Moves should be made towards a joint initiative between ESA and the European Commission to adapt space telecommunications tools to the needs of civil protection: this is the conclusion of the second meeting of the advisory board on the ‘Action Plan on Satellite Communications for Civil Protection’. The meeting was hosted on 24 November in Vienna by the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior.

Representatives from seven civil protection authorities were gathered along with the EC, which represents no less than 30 countries: the member states and also a number of neighbouring countries. They made an assessment of their action, which aims at understanding, within the needs of civil protection, where satellites can offer good solutions either as a complement to or in addition to what already exists – or even as a complete replacement.

Satellite initiative for civil protection
Satellite initiative for civil protection

Austria, France and Italy explained their own experiences in combining satellite and conventional solutions. This was very useful and it was made clear that what must be developed are simple equipments, easy to use and carry, and self sufficient. In this sense the satellite system could act as a redundant back-up for the usual communications ground links but also should be able at anytime to replace them in case of a disruption of the terrestrial channels.

Very often, the civil protection representatives explained, the problems lie with logistics: uncharged batteries, unplugged wires and similar occurrences - small problems that in the end can cause the failure of the overall system. This is why the experience of the civil protection agents is paramount for the space world which first wishes to develop tools that truly answer the users’ needs.

Pilot projects reflecting these needs are currently being selected, with ESA being the organising body for designing space systems to be implemented during future demonstrations.

Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior
Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior

One of the objectives of these exchanges is to be able to improve a tool that the EC has already started to develop: the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC), a civil protection mechanism set up in October 2001 to facilitate and support civil protection assistance in the event of a major disaster inside or outside the EU. It was clear that often it was not possible to provide secure and reliable communication tools to its field experts or in remote areas. In fact, the experiences in the field with MIC illustrate the need for satellite communication.

The next advisory board meeting will be held in June. It will be hosted in Rome by the Italian civil protection authority. In the meantime, ESA contracts worth € 1 300 000 have been kicked off to enable the implementation of four pilot projects:

  • ‘satellite adapter’ – proposals have been accepted from two consortia:
    • Telespazio as project lead, with Alcatel Alenia Space, Indra and Hispasat (Spain) as subcontractors
    • Infoterra (an EADS Astrium company based in France) as project lead, with Tradia (Spain), EADS Secure Networks (France), Astrium Satellites and Skysoft (Portugal) as subcontractors
  • internet protocol over satellite with Indra Espacio (Spain) as prime and PXL (Italy) as subcontractor
  • civil protection requirements for satellite services, with a ‘CiProS’ study to be undertaken by a consortium led by Carlo Gavazzi Space (Italy), with Booz Allen Hamilton and Astrium Services (an EADS company) as subcontractors
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