The field of disaster management is one where satellite communications plays an important role. Terrestrial networks can become unavailable due to the remote location of the event, or network unavailability is caused by the destruction of infrastructure (often caused by the occurrence itself). Service overloads exist due to peaks of communication activity following disastrous events.
Satellite communications provide the ideal communication technology since it is not affected by any of these factors. In fact, its geographical coverage, disaster-independent infrastructure and bandwidth availability are all essential features to disaster management that terrestrial networks cannot guarantee.
Nowadays, disaster management is an activity bound by communication constraints, be it communication between men and officers in the field, or between these and the HQ of operations.
Every so often lives are lost and people get injured due to:
The unavailability of communication channels that could warn of an incoming threat,
A lack of information as to the whereabouts of the men fighting the emergency,
The impossibility of sending graphical information such as maps or satellite data that could help the teams manage their way through a situation - even when communications are available.
The project will develop a service for the Portuguese Civil Protection to accurately and effectively manage the human resources on the field in near real-time, guaranteeing the service will work even when terrestrial communications are unavailable.
The service will address the need to know where each member of the force is during an emergency and their health condition, allowing replacements to be organized in a timely fashion and teams to be moved according to the operational needs of the situation.
I-GARMENT will develop full-bodied smart garments equipped with sensors to monitor position and vital signals (temperature and heart beat) of the agents. This information will be sent via a wireless link to Civil Protection Officers in the HQ, processed and sent back to the field officers equipped with PDAs and/or TabletPCs.
The system consists of four main components: the garment, sensor and data acquisition infrastructure, telecommunications and software.
The fire-fighting garment will be made with the latest and most sophisticated materials available to provide proper protection in hazardous situations, with special emphasis on user comfort and mobility.
Tightly integrated with the garment will be an array of sensors, telecommunication, localisation, alert and processing hardware capable of collecting the status and position of the fire-fighter and transmitting it wirelessly and in real time to a data collecting computer installed in local Operational Field Vehicles (OFV).
Besides providing a means to collect data from the garments, the telecommunication system will allow the data to be transmitted from the local OFV to the main servers located in the management centre. This will be carried out with the use of satellite transmission, making the data available from virtually anywhere without the need for further communication infrastructure.
The main pieces of software to be developed are the data collecting servers and an application where both field and centre managers can analyse the data from all the fire-fighters in real-time, enabling them to make fast decisions based on their status and position. The application will feature geographical information data to complement the data collected from the garments.
After the baseline design is approved, work on the actual garment design will start along with software and hardware development.
Hardware integration tests with the garment are especially important from the early beginning in order to have the final size, weight and heat dissipation well controlled. A careful choice of hardware components will have to be made to provide low power consumption, small heat dissipation, accuracy and reliability.
The telecommunication infrastructure will also start being developed along with the software in order to provide proper debugging of both parts, the main concern being service availability and data transmission performance.
Final system integration will be followed by field tests in actual fire-fighting simulations, both in open terrain and in the forest.
The service is based on the permanent availability to the Civil Protection. The development of protective smart garments also plays an important role.
The mobile geographically based interface will allow for the management of emergency teams in near real-time, provide medical assistance to elements in danger, and replace and move people according to the needs of the emergency.
Since in Civil Protection emergency operations the terrestrial networks are often unavailable due to either traffic congestion, the remoteness of the location or the destruction of the antennas (specially in forest fires, floods and earthquakes), I-GARMENT will guarantee a permanent availability of service through satellite communication . The system is designed to be able to work across telecommunication systems, both terrestrial and satellite. In this way, the system will be available anytime, anywhere.
The potential markets for this development are Civil Protection agents such as police, firemen and mobile health response teams, as well as private security companies where accurate positioning for effective resource management is a critical issue. The service has to be available anywhere, anytime, independent from the availability of a terrestrial network.
The ESA project has been concluded with a Final Review in May 2008.
The three software components were fully developed and tested the main server, the relay server and two client versions.
Three prototypes of the hardware components and garments were assembled and tested extensively in the field for validation purposes.
A Patent for the system was submitted and registered in Portugal. It is in the process of being submitted to several other countries worldwide.
The project partners are looking into industrialization opportunities to have a product ready for mass production in the coming years.
Last Update: 30 Oct 2008