ICT for Environmental Risk Management
In case of emergency, break out the satellites
European researchers have developed an emergency communications system capable of establishing a basic mobile phone network in hours.
The system will help emergency services communicate with each other and respond faster in critical situations, such as natural or industrial disasters.
When disaster strikes, communications are key to an effective response. Yet often communications systems are first to go down in emergencies. Forest fires may consume cell towers, earthquakes uproot landlines, industrial explosions wreck networks and hurricanes level everything.
Enter the WISECOM project, which developed a flexible, robust and comprehensive communications system to help services respond to disasters.
The system integrates several terrestrial mobile radio networks – such as GSM, 3G, and wireless Ethernet – with existing satellite systems, using lightweight and easily deployed technologies. It can also provide location-based services, an enormous benefit during rescue operations. These services can track rescue teams as they operate in the field, for example.
Creating the system was a tough task. The basic wish list for a rapidly deployable mobile network with satellite uplink is daunting.
WISECOM’s researchers also developed and tested an instantly deployable, suitcase-sized base station to provide GSM coverage locally and a global connection via satellite. The weight of this base station is just 5kg. The system is designed for use over the medium term, while emergency services get organised.
WISECOM also developed the system for use on a larger, high-capacity base station for connection to a terrestrial backbone, the central linking spine of a telecommunications network. While the instant solution provides coverage during the initial emergency response, the high-capacity version provides larger communications coverage during recovery operations.
Creating wireless data networks
However, establishing phone networks is only part of the equation. WISECOM’s researchers also developed systems capable of deploying wireless networks for data, which are essential in allowing users to quickly update and disseminate rapidly changing information during an emergency situation.
For example, during a forest fire, the fire front may change rapidly in response to local wind conditions. Wireless networks allow coordinating and rescue teams to keep track of the front and respond appropriately.
The team developed a service that provides wireless Ethernet access, suitable for internet access over hundreds of metres. They even explored using WiMax services. WiMax is an emerging standard that enables wireless internet connections over kilometres rather than metres.
The system could also enable the use of telemedicine, allowing emergency services to consult doctors scattered around the world. Doctors can use the service to help triage disaster victims, and provide advice and support to onsite medical teams.
How it works
The system combines GSM and wireless base stations with the Digital Video Broadcast, Return Channel via Satellite (DVB, RCB) standard. DVB, RCB is a satellite transmission standard that provides backhauling, or connection between nodes in the network, such as telephone exchanges or base stations.
The technologies developed by the WISECOM team could dramatically improve emergency response and disaster recovery. In case of emergencies, users would simply turn to the satellites.
Fields of science
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Funding SchemeSTREP - Specific Targeted Research Project