Satellite Technology for Emergency Management and Disaster Recovery

June 7, 2017

Emergencies are situations that pose an immediate health, life, or environmental hazard. The worst kinds of emergencies are those that endanger a large number of people, while crippling at the same time the organizations and infrastructures that are needed for a prompt response, like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes. These kinds of emergencies are the ones where satellite technology can make a major difference.


When disaster strikes, the first thing to do is to promptly assess how severe of the situation is. Modern remote sensing satellites are able to provide high-resolution images of any area of the globe within a few hours from the request. By comparing these pictures with archived images, civil defense organizations are able to assess the damages and identify the priorities in how to carry on the response operations. GPS terminals provide high precision positioning instructions to recovery teams on site, complementing the visual data.


These “before and after” satellite images show the devastation brought by the 2001 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.


Then next step is to deploy and coordinate search and rescue teams to save the lives of those in immediate danger. This step requires a reliable communication infrastructure to enable audiovisual communication between civil defense agencies and people in the field. Disasters like flood, earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes often disrupt and damage the ground infrastructures, making them unavailable in a moment of need. The best way to deal with these situations is to look upwards to satellite-based communications infrastructures that are available globally even when everything else has stopped working. Iridium is an example of a phone service that enables calling any phone in the world using a handheld terminal that is as big as a cellphone of a few years ago thanks to a constellation of some 66 satellites in Earth’s orbit.


The Iridium satellite constellation provides true global telephone coverage thanks to its 66 satellites.

Credits: GrandDixence@Wikipedia


If the post-disaster situation is stable, the focus turns to fulfilling the basic humanitarian needs of the victims in terms of food, shelter, psychological support and so on. However, if the situation is still critical it is important to monitor the unfolding of the events with weather satellites, and provide accurate forecasts to rescuers and victims.


In this scenario it is fundamental having a way to instruct people how to deal with the situation, and if necessary organize and coordinate an evacuation. This aspect of disaster management requires broadcasting emergency instructions to consumer devices like radio, television, and mobile phones. In areas where the ground infrastructures and power supply are damaged, this part can become complicated.


This is where D-Sat comes into play. D-Sat carries SatAlert, an experiment to validate MAMES, an emergency response protocol designed to enable direct communication between civil defense agencies and people in distress. MAMES, which stands for Multiple Alert Message Encapsulation, is an extensible encapsulation protocol defined by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) for transporting alert messages of different formats over satellite links, and broadcast to cheap and low-power terminals like cellphones. It guarantees the timely distribution of alert messages to the people affected by critical situations in context where the network coverage is limited or broken.



During the experiment D-Sat will collect MAMES emergency messages sent from a ground station, store them onboard, and re-broadcast them to a ground station, emulating a typical emergency scenario where civil defense agencies need a means to broadcast instructions in areas affected by natural disasters. ​


By providing a novel approach to communication in emergency situations, D-Sat provides a contribution that could help to save lives, and reduce the time needed to normalize critical situations. You can help us by contributing to our Kickstarter campaign, knowing that the proceedings will be used to extend the orbital part of the D-Sat mission, allowing us to perform a more thorough testing of the MAMES protocol.  



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