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Satellite Navigation for Emergency Management

GMV has announced the results of the HARMLESS project, an international FP6 research effort aimed at studying and promoting the use of the Galileo and EGNOS satellite navigation systems for emergency management, humanitarian aid and law enforcement support.

Coordinated by GMV and co-funded by the European Commission and participating organizations, the unique consortium was made up of eleven prominent aerospace companies, as well as technology experts and user communities in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Netherlands and Spain.

The project was based on the premise that Galileo and EGNOS, telecommunications, cartographic and earth-observation services are the technologies of the future in the fields of emergency management, humanitarian aid and law enforcement.

Used in combination, these technologies will bring in new applications and streamline processes, in a way that will radically change operations in these fields.

HARMLESS findings demonstrate many benefits that would come from the use of satellite navigation systems in the coordinated management of emergency teams sent to disaster zones, logistic support for humanitarian aid, vehicle tracking, surveillance of suspicious persons, supervision of valuable goods, the collection of court evidence based on tracking and synchronization, and the remote control of hazardous goods.

One proven example of today’s use of these technologies is the GNSS-based bait car program used by the Vancouver, Canada police to track stolen vehicles and successfully reduce the city’s number of car thefts.

“It behooves us all to open up the use of new technologies to emergency-management and law-enforcement user communities in all of our countries,” said Jose Caro, project coordinator.

“Projects like HARMLESS help to build bridges between technologists and users, striking the right balance between what can be done technically and what actually needs to be done in practice.”

One of the demonstrations conducted through HARMLESS involved a theft simulation, described as follows: “On the pretext of making a phone call to ask for help with his broken-down vehicle, a stranger enters a house and, while the owner’s attention is turned elsewhere, steals a video camera. Luckily, the video camera is fitted with the latest communications and satellite-positioning technology and the police track the thief and catch him in record time”.

This showed the added value of satellite positioning in fields such as support for law enforcement, with applications based on a combination of telecommunications, cartographic services and satellite positioning.

The project was divided into three main phases:

• Critical analysis phase: During this ten-month phase an analysis was made of the use of satellite navigation (GNSS) in related user communities, selecting and characterizing a series of applications.

• Implementation phase: This fourteen-month phase involved the definition and implementation of an action plan aimed at promoting GNSS applications in the target user communities. Practical demonstrations were also carried out to prove the feasibility of Galileo and EGNOS services in different situations.

• Results analysis phase: This three-month phase involved a critical analysis of the achievements of the project, identification of the barriers and open points and the provision of feedback to parties involved in the project. The main input of the final analysis was a set of recommendations for European institutions to ensure that the pan-European navigation systems provide the maximum social benefit for users involved in emergency management.

HARMLESS is a platform that aims to bring together national authorities, security forces, medical services, fire brigades, search and rescue teams. The project analyzed current applications and future needs with a global vision, looking at the technical, operational, financial, regulatory and legal aspects, and also the economic and social benefits of the new systems.

Finally, a proposal of the regulation changes was made at the European level to ensure the best possible operation of emergency services, humanitarian aid and law enforcement agencies by using EGNOS and Galileo.

Based on the study’s findings, it is hoped that satellite technology will soon be implemented in daily cases of emergency management, such as emergency telephone services (e-Call, E112, 911), which will include positioning information of the mobile terminal in emergency calls. The use of the technology in these applications is expected to save thousands of lives and personal property around the world.