Satellites aiding disaster relief
Recent demonstrations have shown how making use of digital processing technology on board satellites can help emergency services share information more effectively during natural disasters.
SkyPlexNet is a project funded by ESA Telecom. The technology that has been developed makes it possible to access satellite resources directly and manage the distribution of the multimedia contents to the remote users independently. It is relatively simple, low-cost and avoids the need to centralise data management at one location.
A demonstration took place in early June 2004. Using a satellite communications network running SkyPlexNet, the Italian Civil Protection Authorities in Piedmont Italy were able to receive and send information via satellite. They were also able to coordinate operations between a central authority and emergency units based all over the country.
They now have connections between 119 regional offices of the Fire Brigade and the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior (Viminale). It is the first such system in the world which uses On Board Processing. The network also makes use of a new generation of Set-Top boxes wholly developed and produced in Europe.
The operational system is currently located on off-road vehicles. These vehicles act as production and transmission centres. They are equipped with satellite terminals designed to transmit and receive live images to the Fire Brigade Offices and can also provide broadband communications within the areas of operations.
In times of emergency, the vehicles can provide video, data and voice communication, making it possible to video conference with a central authority. The system can also interoperate with the existing terrestrial broadband networks.
According to Alenia Spazio, the Italian company behind the project, "The satellite network for the Italian Fire Brigade opens a new era in emergency and disaster relief in Italy."
Another development includes the Civil Protection Authority in Piedmont which has signed a Cooperation Agreement with the Ministry of Interior to integrate their satellite project Emercom.sat into the SkyPlexNet network. The plan is for the Emercom.sat to become compatible and inter-operable with the Fire Brigade network.
Franceso Rispoli of Alenia Spazio said, "SkyPlexNet allows coverage of the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean basin. It is the first satellite network for emergency applications on a global basis. The next step is to extend this experience to European institutions."