Copernicus EMS: helping firefighters from space
Copernicus Programme’s satellite-based information and mapping services can help in every step of the emergency management cycle and are available for disaster responders in Europe and around the world.
The magnitude and intensity of the 2017 wildfire season will be remembered for a long time. A series of deadly fires struck Portugal in June. A rare, long-lasting and extended peat fire even happened in Greenland in August. An unusually high number of large-scale fires affected France, Spain, Italy, Croatia but also California and Canada, while the “season” extended into 2018 with fires in Spain in November and in Corsica (France) in January 2018. As climate change fuels record drought, exceptional weather events (high temperatures and/or strong winds, etc.) such intense summers for firefighters and foresters might become the “new normal”.
In this context, 2017 also saw an increase in the use of a tool available for first responders fighting emergencies. This tool is part of Copernicus, the European Union’s Earth Observation programme. It is the Emergency Management Service (Copernicus EMS) that provides risk, hazard and vulnerability assessment maps and geospatial information, early warning information as well as burn scar rapid mapping based on satellite data. The service is free of charge for users in Europe and all around the world. The Copernicus EMS mapping service was triggered 82 times in 2017, compared to 41 in 2016.
What is the Copernicus Emergency Management Service?
The Copernicus Emergency Management Service has been in operation since April 2012. It 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 preparedness and recovery activities.
The Copernicus EMS is one of the six main services that the Copernicus Programme provides worldwide. The EMS was designed as one of the tools available to the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism. The service provides early warning information through EFFIS, the European Forest Fire Information System and GWIS its global counterpart, as well as geospatial information in the form of paper or digital maps and geoinformation that are based on very high resolution satellite imagery and available in situ (on-site) or open source information. The maps can be provided in two temporal modes – Risk & Recovery mapping, that does not relate to any particular emergency and can be provided within weeks or months; and Rapid Mapping, that is usually requested during or right after the event.
Risk & Recovery Mapping
The Risk & Recovery Mapping component provides maps 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 can provide emergency planners an in-depth look into the situation of any defined Area of Interest (AoI). The service also provides post-disaster maps for potential recovery activities.
EFFIS and GWIS Early Warning Systems
The European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) and The Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS) support the forestry and firefighting services in Europe and globally. The main digital tool of both of the systems is a Current Situation Viewer that gives an in-browser view of Fire Risk Indexes (for example, Fire Weather Index, Initial Spread Index, Build Up Index, etc.), 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.
The Rapid Mapping service provides maps and digital geoinformation (vector data) within hours or days after an emergency event – as quickly as the necessary satellite imagery can be acquired while processing is done in a few hours by a team of contracts who work 24h a day, every single day of the year. There are three standard categories of rapid maps – reference maps, the latest possible satellite-based map 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), and grading maps that estimate the magnitude of the damage from the disaster (for example, the severity of the burn, the number of buildings, roads, etc. affected). For long-lasting events, monitoring maps can be requested so as to monitor the evolution over time.
How can the Copernicus EMS support firefighters?
Different components of the Copernicus EMS can support firefighters during the different phases of the emergency management cycle.
Firstly, the Risk & Recovery mapping provides information to assess the potential consequences of major wildfires, and the exposure of population, property and infrastructure in selected areas in order to take the necessary risk reduction and mitigation measures. These products, aimed at long-term plans for fire preparedness, provide firefighters as well as national, regional or stakeholders with information about risks for population, assets, natural hazard risks, and transport network vulnerability to disruption by a forest fire.
Secondly, EFFIS and GWIS systems can be accessed at any time to monitor the fire risk in a selected territory to allow the implementation of preparatory measures (e.g. interdiction of barbecues in risk areas, intensification of fire watches, pre-positioning of firefighting equipment and teams, etc.). They can also provide an overview on ongoing fires at coarse temporal and spatial resolutions.
Finally, Rapid Mapping provides information for firefighters in the situation room or on-site about the geographic spread of fire. When monitoring maps are requested, they enable to keep updating the situation and are a useful tool when wildfires events last for long periods of time.
Case study – Croatia
“You are literally saving lives from above – thank you, geo-altruists.” HUKM, the Croatian Crisis Management Association
Croatia’s territory traditionally features a very high risk of summer forest fires in coastal areas and on its islands. There is therefore a need to envisage increasing firefighting capabilities and preparedness in remote areas. To tackle these issues, Croatia activated the Risk & Recovery component of the Copernicus EMS, requesting fire risk assessments for 27 Areas of Interest. This effort resulted in a detailed report assessing the situation and suggesting risk mitigation measures for each of the areas. Using the 61 map produced and the associated vector data, the Croatian Crisis Management Association developed an interactive online fire risk map covering parts of the country analysed for this activation.
“Copernicus became a household name in Croatia,” said the spokesperson from the Croatian Crisis Management Association. “The service makes it easier for further activities in the operational use of data.”
How to activate the Copernicus EMS
The EMS Mapping component can be triggered only by or through an Authorised User. These are National Focal Points in the EU Member States and countries participating in the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism. Note that the service can be triggered for disasters anywhere in the world, not just Europe. Activations can be directly channelled through the ERCC, the European Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) when a user is from a country that does not participate in any of these initiatives, or if he or she user does not know how to contact their National Focal Point. In all cases, a Service Request Form (available on the Copernicus EMS website) must be filled in. The EFFIS and GWIS systems are accessible online to users, but also to the general public (no password or registration required).
For more information go to www.emergency.copernicus.eu