EMS and satellite mapping: What types of services Civil Protection are in need?
With the effects of climate change, severe weather events are becoming more frequent and devastating. For instance, 2017 has seen an unusual number of hurricanes and cyclones that raged through the Caribbean, the United States, Europe and Asia. Forest fires occurred in such unexpected places as Greenland, and there was a high number of large-scale fires in Portugal, France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, California and Canada. Moreover, the forest fire season extended late into the year with fires in Spain in November and with wildfires in Corsica, France until January 2018. With such events becoming the “new normal”, emergency responders are looking for additional tools that can make their work more effective and efficient. Copernicus Programme, Europe’s “eyes in the sky” provide such tools as maps showing the impact of the disasters through the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS).
What is the Copernicus Emergency Management Service?
The service supports crisis managers, Civil Protection authorities and humanitarian aid actors dealing with natural disasters, man-made emergency situations, and humanitarian crises
What is the Copernicus Emergency Management Service?
The Copernicus Emergency Management Service is one of the six main services that the Copernicus Programme, the European Union’s Earth Observation programme, provides on a global scale. It has been fully operational since April 2012. The service supports crisis managers, Civil Protection authorities and humanitarian aid actors dealing with natural disasters, man-made emergency situations, and humanitarian crises, as well as those involved in disaster risk reduction and recovery activities. The EMS was designed as one of the instruments available to the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism, but its services extend their reach beyond Europe since any country in the world can benefit from the Copernicus EMS and many already do.
The service provides early warning and monitoring information for forest fires through EFFIS, the European Forest Fire Information System and GWIS its global counterpart. EFAS, the European Flood Awareness System, and GloFAS, the Global Flood Awareness System provide tools for early warnings about floods in Europe and globally. The service also provides geospatial information that is based on high-resolution satellite imagery and available in situ (on-site) or open source information. The geospatial information can be provided in two temporal modes – through Rapid Mapping component, to respond to an emergency during or right after the event, and through Risk & Recovery Mapping component, that assists in disaster preparedness or recovery and can be provided to decision-makers on a tailor-made basis within weeks or months.
Risk & Recovery Mapping
The Risk & Recovery Mapping component can be of great utility for worldwide actors of Disaster Risk Reduction and preparedness. It provides maps, digital geoinformation and reports that can be used for preparedness, prevention, and Disaster Risk Reduction activities. The products include reference maps, hazard, vulnerability, exposure and other risk assessment maps that provide emergency planners as well as national or local authorities with an in-depth look into the situation of any defined Area of Interest (AoI). The service also provides post-disaster maps for potential recovery and reconstruction activities, for example, post-disaster needs assessment, recovery plans, reconstruction/rehabilitation monitoring, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) monitoring, Refugee Camp monitoring.
The Rapid Mapping service provides maps and digital geoinformation (vector data) within hours or days after an emergency – as quickly as the necessary satellite imagery can be acquired while processing is performed in a few hours by a team of contractors that are on call 24h a day, every single day of the year.
There are three standard categories of rapid maps – Reference Maps, which show the situation prior to an event and are based on archive satellite imagery of the area prior to an emergency event; Delineation Maps, showing the extent of the event (for example, in case of wildfires, the perimeter and area of a burn scar or in case of floods – the flood extent), and Grading Maps that estimate the magnitude of the damage after a disaster (for example, the severity of the burn in case of a forest fire, the number of buildings, roads affected by an earthquake and their damage grade, etc.). For long-lasting events, monitoring maps can be requested so as to monitor the evolution over time based on the latest available satellite imagery.
Early Warning & Monitoring Systems for Forest Fires
The European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) and the Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS) can support forestry and firefighting services globally. Though called the European Forest Fire Information System, the EFFIS network involves a total of 40 countries in Europe and beyond. EFFIS is fully operational and GWIS operates on a pre-operational basis. Both systems provide a tool called the Current Situation Viewer – an in-browser view of Fire Risk Indexes (for example, Fire Weather Index, Initial Spread Index, Build Up Index, etc.), and active fires monitoring by satellite at medium resolution. The products are developed on the basis meteorological information, such as temperature, precipitation or wind, to forecast fire danger.
The EFFIS website also includes forest fire news, annual fire reports, fire history, forest focus studies and other historical information. When required, users can request data (in particular in digital format) from both portals by filling a digital Data Request form online.
Early Warning & Monitoring Systems for Floods
The European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) provides flood probability forecasts for all European river basins. The System has 68 partners, which are mostly national hydro-meteorological centres responsible for national/regional warnings, or civil protection institutions in Europe and beyond. National authorities in partner countries receive pan-European flood forecast information twice a day which provides a 10-day outlook. A pan-European overview of ongoing floods is posted on the EFAS website and updated daily. The real-time EFAS access is currently limited to the authorities responsible for flood alerts in their countries. But you can still find archive information, EFAS bulletins and videos on the portal.
The EMS GloFAS system is the global counterpart of the European EFAS. It is composed of an integrated hydrometeorological forecasting chain and of a worldwide monitoring system that analyses daily results and displays forecasts for flood events on a dedicated web platform. To use the GloFAS Forecast Viewer, you will need to create a free account on the website. The website also has links to YouTube videos introducing the system and explaining how to use it, case studies for downloading and other information. Unlike EFAS, GloFAS is freely accessible to anyone.
A glimpse at the Flood disaster of Sorbolo and Lentigione, december 2017
European Drought Observatory
The European Drought Observatory (EDO) is a new service released in January 2018. The EDO provides drought-relevant information such as maps of indicators derived from different data sources: precipitation measurements, satellite measurements, modelled soil moisture content and others. Graphs and Compare Layers tools allow for displaying and analysing the information and Drought News give an overview of the situation in case of imminent droughts.
The benefits & limitations of satellite imagery
There are many advantages that satellite imagery can provide:
- It allows to acquire information about difficult to access locations (e.g. remote, disaster and conflict-stricken areas)
- Radar satellites (such as Copernicus Sentinel-1) can acquire imagery at night and irrespective of weather conditions (e.g. even when clouds are present over the Area of Interest)
- Large areas can quickly be assessed for damages to transport and building infrastructure – this can be particularly valuable in dense urban areas with large populations
- It is possible to monitor an area over a period of time to observe changing phenomena such as the expansion of urban areas or settlements, the movements of displaced populations, and the progress of construction activities
However, there are some limitations of satellites that have to be considered. These include:
- Optical satellites can only acquire images during daytime, and image quality can be affected by the presence of clouds, haze or smoke. In many of such cases, radar satellites can be used, however not all mapping products can be produced using radar imagery
- The accuracy and quality of the mapping results can vary depending on the nature and scale of the phenomena observed. For example, in case of floods, the satellite overfly can be too late to capture the maximum extension of a flooding event
Radar satellites vs Optical satellites
Radar satellites, such as the Copernicus Sentinel-1, carry synthetic aperture radar payloads (SAR) to obtain terrain and land-cover information and they provide continuous imagery in the daytime, night time and in all weather conditions. Radar satellites are used for such applications as monitoring sea ice zones and the Arctic environment, and surveillance of marine environment, monitoring land surface motion risks, mapping in support of humanitarian aid in crisis situations etc. They are also widely used to identify flooded areas or to detect oil spills at sea
Optical Satellites, such as the Copernicus Sentinel-2, are amongst the most common instruments used for Earth Observation. They have many application areas such as agriculture, land-cover mapping, damage assessment associated with natural hazards as well as urban planning. Their use is, however, limited to cloud-free conditions and daytime operations.
How to access & activate the Copernicus EMS
The EMS Mapping component can be triggered for any part of the world by or through an Authorised User. These are the National Focal Points in the EU Member States, countries participating in the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism and the EU Delegations throughout the world. Activations can also be triggered directly by the European Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) of the European Commission’s Directorate General of Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection. In all cases, a Service Request Form (available on the Copernicus EMS website) must be completed. The EFFIS and GWIS systems are accessible online to users, but also to the general public (no password or registration required), and to access GloFAS you will need to create a free account. EFAS information is restricted; access can be provided on request.
For more information
Copernicus EMS portal: http://emergency.copernicus.eu/
Mapping portal: http://emergency.copernicus.eu/mapping
EFFIS portal: http://effis.jrc.ec.europa.eu
GWIS portal: http://gwis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/
EFAS portal: https://www.efas.eu
GloFAS portal: http://globalfloods.jrc.ec.europa.eu/
User Request Form for Rapid Mapping and Risk & Recovery Mapping: http://emergency.copernicus.eu/mapping/ems/how-use-service
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