SARONTAR - Situational Awareness and Command & Control of Rescue Forces in Alpine Regions

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The SARONTAR (Situational Awareness and Command & Control of Rescue Forces in Alpine Regions) project comprises the demonstration and pilot implementation of a satellite-supported operations control system for a more effective and a more coordinated proceeding of the rescue forces in alpine rescue missions.

It is based on GNSS for positioning and navigation. Topographic maps and high resolution orthophotos form the basis for geoinformation. As communication techniques, terrestrial and satellite communication is used to provide a high level of reliability and thus seamless communication between rescue forces, mission controllers and emergency management centres.

The scope and main objective of the demonstration project was to show the benefits of the provided services to relevant stakeholders. As such, the added value of space assets (satellite navigation and satellite communication) used in the solution were detailed and demonstrated. It targets successful integration of the pilot system into the daily routine of alpine rescue organisations. Therefore the system, based on prior research & development projects, was adapted according to user requirements for practical usage and the most adequate hardware currently on the market were implemented (e.g. outdoor smartphones).

Users and their needs

The user groups for the SARONTAR services are the alpine rescue organisations like mountain rescue services and alpine police in Austria. Furthermore, the national alerting and warning centres are users.

The mountain rescue services in each federal state are structured as follows: There are local units at the bottom that are grouped in regional units. These regional units in a federal state belong to one (federal) regional warning centre.

The pilot system is installed at the Styrian National Alerting and Warning Centre in Graz, Austria and utilised by the Mountain Rescue Service and Alpine Police in the alpine region of Liezen in the North of Styria.

The user groups for the SARONTAR services are the alpine rescue organisations like mountain rescue services and alpine police in Austria. Furthermore, the national alerting and warning centres are users.

The mountain rescue services in each federal state are structured as follows: There are local units that are grouped in regional units. These regional units in a federal state belong to one (federal) national alerting and warning centres.

The pilot system is installed at the Styrian National Alerting and Warning Centre in Graz, Austria and is utilised by the Mountain Rescue Service and the Alpine Police in the alpine region of Liezen in the North of Styria.

The user groups require a single system for mission coordination and documentation. Moreover, the usage of a homogenous system regarding devices, maps and coordinate reference system is aspired. A direct (data) communication link from the National Alerting and Warning Centre to the mission control was established in order to provide instant access to the respective information.

The display and management of all mission related information is provided by this system. A web-based access was appreciated to make usage hardware-independent. In order to manage missions effectively, up-to-date information is necessary. Therefore, a continuous exchange of mission information during the whole mission is essential which implies a stable communication between mission control and search and rescue team.

High detail map data (topographical maps and georeferenced orthophotos) is necessary for the mission control as well as for the mountain rescuers.

Service/ system concept

Within the legacy system, there was no automatic continuous information transmission from the Mobile Terminals to the Mission Control Centre. Information on the team positions and the status on-site was requested via analogue radios. In certain regions, radios were not available and therefore the rescue team could not be located and the mission coordination was suffering. The exchange of up-to-date mission information provided by SARONTAR through stable communication links is a major benefit compared to the current situation.

Within the legacy system the mission controller received the initial mission information per phone call from the National Alerting and Warning Centre. Furthermore, the alert acknowledgements by the mountain rescuers were requested via telephone. A direct (data) communication link from National Alerting and Warning Centre to the mission control improves the situation significantly.

Furthermore, different systems regarding mission control were in use. SARONTAR unifies these systems and provides one single system for mission coordination and documentation.

Space Added Value

GNSS is used to determine the actual position of the search and rescue teams, the track they followed, and the position of important objects in the terrain.

The data transfer between mobile terminals and central server is performed by a hybrid communication link. Terrestrial GSM/GPRS networks are used primarily and are backed up by the satellite communication system.

The operation controllers equipped with this system are able to get a visual impression of the actual situation, in order to analyse the situation rapidly and to provide precise instructions to the search crews.

Product Benefits

This innovative integrated system provides a tailored system for search & rescue mission coordination enabling a seamless and tailor-made data exchange between the operation control and the rescue team. Furthermore, the definition and allocation of search areas for the single rescue teams provides a significant improvement for coordinating the overall mission. One major benefit and a key enabler of SARONTAR is the automatic rescue mission documentation since a lot of effort can be avoided after the mission for the rescue teams, the mission control, and the emergency management centre. Due to the seamless documentation, information losses are avoided and the data recorded in a rescue mission report can be used at court. On a case by case basis this becomes more and more necessary. In addition, the redundant communication (satellite and terrestrial communication) was appreciated as very advantageous by the users and stakeholders

Product Features

The members of a search and rescue team along with their mission controllers and the emergency management centre are supported by various services:

  • Display of a Map to overview the situation graphically
  • Exchange of Information and Data between teams and controllers
  • Several coordination functionalities between different search and rescue teams
  • Automatic and seamless documentation of complete operations

The figure shows the client-server architecture of the project. The server application is installed in the regional centre; the mobile terminals and the mission control centre represent the clients.

 

The mobile terminals support the search and rescue teams in the field. As hardware for the mobile terminals a smartphone is used. The software includes an app, which transmits positioning data with included time stamps automatically to the mission control centre in constant intervals. It offers a map function displaying all important and relevant geoinformation concerning a current mission on a map to support the orientation of the team and overview of the mission. Another function is available for the communication with the server and exchanging messages with the mission controllers as quick and easy as possible with only a few clicks.

The search and rescue operation is coordinated and managed by the help of the mission control centre. The coordinator is informed on the positions of the search and rescue teams during the operation and is able to communicate with them using this web application.

Both clients exchange information in terms of messages that conduce to the coordination of the operation. Messages are not exchanged directly but always via the server in the regional centre. This regional centre consists of communication software and a database. The communication software reacts on incoming messages of the mobile clients and stores the information in the database without exception in order to record the communication between clients and server completely.

Key Issues

The key issue was the integration of positioning, navigation, geoinformation, and communication techniques. In addition to information about the position of search and rescue teams, special emphasis was put on communication. In case of natural disasters and during routine rescue operations, the availability of terrestrial communication is often limited or missing at all. By additionally utilising satellite communication, the hybrid communication approach improves the availability of data communication.

Provision of suitable geoinformation was the second issue that is very important for alpine rescue teams. In Styria the teams are used to the maps provided by the local government (Austrian topographic map and orthophotos) and strongly requested their integration in new systems.

Current Status

The SARONTAR-supported trainings and mission performed in Styria confirmed the gaps in cellular network coverage. The mission controllers highly appreciated the live tracking of the rescue teams to maintain a clear overview of the situation and the simple way to exchange information to guide the teams and receive POIs without having to write down coordinates. Regarding acceptance of the whole system, all groups of ages of mountain rescuers included enthusiasts as well as sceptics depending on their technical experience. The major part easily accepted the MCC and MT, especially the smartphone and web browser. Only the SatCom elements raised a little reservation regarding their usage because they were completely new to the rescuers. At the moment, the commercial benefits of the system can only be estimated – a more comprehensive assessment will be possible once the system is in operation for a longer time and has proven its value in future missions.

Project Managers

Contractor Project Manager

Claudia Fösleitner
TeleConsult Austria GmbH, Schwarzbauerweg 3
8043 Graz
Austria
+43 316 89 09 71 - 12

ESA Project Manager

Francesco Feliciani
ESA/ESTEC
Keplerlaan 1, P.O. Box 299
2200 AG Noordwijk ZH
Netherlands

Status Date

Updated: 19 June 2015 - Created: 03 March 2014