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Real-time disaster management

What you need to know

As the fight against a forest fire intensifies, swift water bombers, courageous front-line fire crews, and back-up bulldozer operators need a reliable communications system that knows where they are and what is happening all around them. In the chaos of a large-scale disaster, critical real-time communications and pinpoint mapping of hot spots and firefighting teams are required by command centres to direct operations. In Canada, REMSAT has been developed to answer these needs using satellite communications and precision Earthobservation information.

Satellites are key to effective disaster response

REMSAT, short for "real-time emergency management via satellite," increases security for crews, and in real-time integrates many streams of information to improve decision-making. It is the first system in the world to use three space-based resources to respond to emergency situations. Volumes of information from the front lines of a disaster can be transmitted by satellite, relieving pressure on overburdened radio frequencies, and the high-resolution satellite images of the region help manage the response with great precision. Global positioning data from satellites are used to track all emergency crews and their resources.

Coordinating up-to-the-minute information

From its permanent and protected location, the Central Control Terminal is a powerful tool for realtime digital mapping for emergency response. It layers critical information about the moving fronts of the fire and the locations of crews, and these references are projected on geographic maps of the affected area. Detailed topographical information can be added, as well as data provided by satellite thermal sensors. The terminal also pinpoints the locations of personnel in the field by Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.

An on-site command post maintains direct wireless communication between the terminal and field crews and directs operations. Using portable communication devices carried by crews and onboard trucks or aircraft, information from the field and from firefighters returning from the emergency zone is relayed to the Central Control Terminal where the maps are updated.

Canada responds to international needs

An initiative of the European Space Agency, REMSAT was developed by Telesat, B.C. Forest Services, Simon Fraser University, Communications Research Centre Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency. The success of field trials in British Columbia may lead to the creation of a national program.