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Faster and better rescue through satellite

01 May 2007

When rescue teams are better informed about an area and governments can coordinate these rescue efforts it will mean saved lives and property. A project supported by ESA is bringing this benefit to Europe for the good of all citizens.
Numerous environmental threats have emerged in the last few years. Extreme weather in the form of tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes has become of great concern to people. So too has the rapid spread of new and deadly viruses like SARS and the Avian Flu. By identifying and mapping these sooner, agencies can relieve suffering faster and contain a disaster more efficiently. That is why ESA is supporting HEWS, the Health Early Warning System that will improve the performance of end-users like rescue services.

HEWS offers these users a wider real-time perspective of events and how to manage them. It integrates knowledge of a particular threat or disease and brings it to remote areas even if they are in an extreme state of disorder. It aids in logistic support and reduces the need to carry large amounts of heavy equipment to trouble spots.

A pan-European solution
HEWS works by setting up a communication network via satellite to survey and monitor risk indicators. It allows communication between teams in the field or to central command areas. The network can be scaled to the appropriate level of alert or emergency. It also possesses some unique and useful features. Data received from multiple points can be collected stored and processed, it can then be quickly analysed and distributed to the users who need it the most. It is an open platform and it is built along a modular approach so the widest variety of users can implement it.

What will make HEWS critical to disaster relief agencies is that it is satellite based. Acting in real time, information can be integrated with new data from multiple sources, anywhere in the world and on a continental scale. The latest weather reports, for example, can be sent to a central management unit and integrated relief plans. Disasters disrupt or even destroy local infrastructures but not satellites.

Two scenarios
The system will be tested in two different operational scenarios, one African and one European. In the first, a suspected case of an infectious disease is reported about 50 km from an African capital. Field teams will be deployed by the local Ministry of Health, international organisations and NGOs. The scenario will require them to assess the current situation and deploy a mobile laboratory. Based on field reports an emergency is declared. HEWS will provide on-time reporting from the various locations and provide insight into how the epidemic is progressing. A response will then be organised and feedback provided to mobile teams on road access, water, food, drugs, and medical disposables. Because of HEWS the result will be an optimisation of resources.

The second scenario imagines a terrorist attack in the centre of a European capital. The resulting confusion leads to traffic jams and a saturation of the GSM network. The work of the many civil protection and health operators, who are all entering the scene at the same time, is hindered by a lack of coordination and field information, particularly on decontamination measures and treatment protocols. HEWS will give civil protection authorities the ability to supply this information and coordinate the field teams correctly. They can even request medical personnel from hospitals or move patients to hospitals more rapidly.

HEWS is the work of a consortium of three companies, Instituto Nacional de Sa├║de, TEKEVER S.A., both from Portugal and Ridgeback S.A.S from Italy and co-financed by ESA in the Health and Telemedicine via Satellite Programme.

Head of the future programme and applications division for ESA Telecom, Mr Pierluigi Mancini said about how important HEWS is for Europe: "ESA's support for this project further reinforces our user driven strategy."

To download a brochure on HEWS or read more about ESA is doing for aid to disaster relief click under related links at the top-right of this page.

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Last Update: 15 May 2008
 
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