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Charter activation brings space dimension to European emergency exercise


Full-scale disaster is breaking out in France – in the form of a simulated accident around which a major European civil protection exercise is planned. Just as in a real emergency, the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters is being activated so rescue teams will receive satellite images of the disaster zone .

It begins with a train derailment, and then the situation gets worse. Train wagons of fuel begin to burn, the fire spreading to pressurised tanks of liquefied gas until one of them explodes violently, even as a passenger train is stopped nearby. Secondary fires reach wagons of hazardous chemicals giving rise to toxic and corrosive fumes that emanate past nearby houses. Casualties are being poisoned as well as seriously burned…

The EURATECH 2005 exercise is occurring between 10 and 14 April at the town of Portes-lès-Valence in the French department of Drôme. Its name is short for ’European Technological Accident ’.

A large number of different French groups are participating in EURATECH, including the town and prefecture authorities, railway operator SNCF, local and regional fire services, the police and National Gendarmerie, the Ministry of the Interior and the French Army.

The exercise scenario has been designed to be sufficiently serious to justify activation of the European mechanism of mutual cooperation in civil protection. So additional rescue teams will be mobilised from Belgium, Germany and Italy, coordinated by the European Commission’s Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) in Brussels, which has been providing active assistance during disasters for the last three years.

Within France the emergency response will be coordinated from the Interior Ministry’s COGIC centre (centre opérationnel de gestion interministérielle des crises) in Asnières near Paris. It is from COGIC that the request for the activation of the Charter on Space and Major Disasters is made. The request is passed to the on duty engineer at ESA, who analyses it and passes it on to Charter members to take action.

Both the French space agency CNES and the German Aerospace Centre DLR are participating in EURATECH 2005, making SPOT 5 and IKONOS satellite imagery available. Once the images are acquired they will be transmitted to the Strasbourg-based firm SERTIT for processing and interpretation before delivery to COGIC.

Serving as they increasingly do in real emergencies, high-resolution satellite images provide up-to-date maps of buildings, roads and railways for planning responses to a disaster and carrying out rapid damage assessment.

The EURATECH 2005 exercise begins on 10 April, with the two-day simulated disaster officially commencing on the morning of 12 April. Part of the aim of EURATECH 2005 is to showcase the benefit of European institutions to the continent’s citizens, and the exercise concludes with a daylong seminar on setting-up of a European civil protection rapid reaction force.

France’s Minister of the Interior Dominique de Villepin will attend the exercise and welcome high level officials from other countries and the European Commission.

ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain is due to address the seminar on how the Global Monitoring and Environment and Security (GMES) initiative of ESA and the European Union to develop an independent global monitoring capability has the potential to assist such an organisation, along with current Agency work on satellite telecommunications for disaster relief.

This latter subject is also being convened at the French Senate in Paris on April 29, 2005 jointly by the Agency and the French Civil Protection Agency.

The Charter on Space and Major Disasters

The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters represents a joint effort by global space agencies to put resources at the service of rescue authorities responding to major natural or man-made disasters. To date the Charter has been activated more than 70 times.

Following the UNISPACE III conference held in Vienna, Austria in July 1999, the Charter was initiated by ESA and CNES, with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Other members include the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Argentine Space Agency (CONAE) and the Japan Aerospace Agency (JAXA), with the United Nations as a ’cooperating body’.

Simonetta Cheli | EurekAlert!
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