The Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) has been fully operational since April 2012. During its two years of activity, the EMS has provided actors involved in the management of natural disasters, man-made emergency situations and humanitarian crises with timely and accurate geospatial information in the form of reference, delineation and grading maps.
The mapping and early warning components of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) delivered 810 maps to its users and numerous flood warnings to the corresponding authorities during its first two years of operations. These products have facilitated the improved coordination of responses to man-made and natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes, fires, floods and humanitarian crises) and supported EMS users to plan emergency response activities in order to minimise the loss of human lives and damage to infrastructure.
On the 15th of May 2013, the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) of the European Commission’s DG ECHO (Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection) was inaugurated. The ERCC has played a pivotal role in the Copernicus Emergency Management Service as the single point of entry for users, responsible for collecting, assessing and granting service activation requests and a major user of the flood warning information provided by the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS).
On the second anniversary of the launch of the EMS, Mr Juha Auvinen, Head of the Emergency Response Unit at DG ECHO that channels the activation requests for the EMS, reflected on the benefits of the service:
“The DG for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO) has made good use of the service provided by Copernicus over the past couple of years. Since its inception in 2012 the service has developed from a novel EU capability into a mature service.
The Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) serves as the operational contact point for Copernicus. Information on existing and predicted disasters and emergencies is exchanged on a daily basis so that the products meet the needs of real users.
This Copernicus service has helped the ERCC to develop a better monitoring and observation capacity which is absolutely crucial for disaster prevention and for rapid response. Equally, it has also enhanced the EU's situational awareness and ability to respond to disasters by using Space and satellite-based Earth Observation technologies.”
Since being operational in 2012, EFAS, the early warning component of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service, has provided numerous flood early warnings to its end-users, which use EFAS as a complementary source of information to the national flood forecasting activities. In particular, during the Central European floods in June 2013, which heavily affected Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, 20 flood early warnings were sent to the corresponding EFAS partners with warning lead times up to several days in advance. Based on EFAS and national forecasts, the ERCC was informed and well prepared ahead of the beginning of the floods.
During its two years of activity, the mapping component of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service has provided timely and accurate geospatial information derived from satellite remote sensing in the form of 370 reference maps, 340 delineation maps and 100 grading maps. This has been in response to a total of 69 activations in "rush mode" (in which maps have to be delivered in a matter of days, if not hours) and 7 in "non-rush" mode (in which users can expect the delivery of products within weeks).
Moreover, the service has already been activated on eight separate occasions so far this year.
Mr Auvinen added that “over the past year, the number of requests using satellite imagery has been increasing. Since the beginning of 2014, emergency maps have been provided to enable users to manage responses to the floods in the UK, France, Slovenia and Croatia.
We have also been very satisfied with the provision of maps for other kinds of emergencies, such as the Syrian Crisis and the conflict in the Central African Republic, where we were able to deliver the first maps within hours of the request.”
Mr Auvinen concluded that he is “positive [ERCC] will continue in the future this extremely fruitful cooperation with the Copernicus Emergency Management Service.”
Furthermore, service providers have implemented a series of improvements to the rush mode service since it was established. In particular, for mapping products related to earthquakes, forest fires and floods (these last two are the main causes of activation), the target production time for delivery of the first available map has been reduced to three hours, whilst the timescales for delivery for other types of emergencies remain at eight hours after acquisition of the satellite imagery. Activations relating to fires account for approximately 13% of the total requests made since April 2012. A comparatively higher proportion of activations relates to floods, which represent 44% of the total of activations.
Most of the time elapsed between the activation of the service request and delivery of the product to users is still taken up by satellite tasking and imagery acquisition. A statistical analysis of the results achieved during the first 18 months of EMS operations shows that these tasks account for 74% of the product delivery lead-time. As these tasks typically require 18-36 hours, this means that adhering to the 24-hour deadline for final delivery after a user request is a real challenge for EMS operators.
Other measures to improve the timeliness of delivery include the implementation of a capability to task more than one satellite sensor to produce the data. Radar satellites are the preferred option in flood incidents, as they have the capability of providing data in all weather conditions, (when rainy or cloudy) and throughout day and night.
In regard to non-rush mode, the demand for products has increased considerably since 2012, when there was only one such activation. Overall, a total of 7 activations have been received and successfully concluded. A number of these activations were related to civil protection exercises in Member States; and in the future the non-rush mode component will be expanded to include Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation products. Measures to mitigate the consequences of disasters have received much more attention lately, in view of events such as the floods that affected several European countries in the recent past.
The EMS-Mapping includes also a validation component, which is normally triggered by the Joint Research Centre (JRC). This service consists of checking in detail the output of the mapping services on a sample basis and producing a validation report. This process includes verifying the technical aspects of the products as well as the evaluation of the added value it can bring to users and its impact on the user workflow. On-going monitoring of feedback from users is carried out in order to ensure the continuous improvement of the mapping services. So far, the validation service has been triggered four times to analyse maps produced in rush mode.
The EMS portal (www.emergency.copernicus.eu) has also significantly evolved since the launch of the service. It provides users as well as all EU citizens with direct full and near-real time access to Copernicus products (with the exception of sensitive activations and near-real time flood forecasts). Products are provided in a number of raster formats and resolutions as well as in vector format. The list of activations as well as additional information on the EMS mapping service as well as the maps can be accessed through the portal.
More information on the early warning component of EMS can be found here: http://emergency.copernicus.eu/mapping/ems/efas-european-flood-awareness-system
The first six months of activity of the GMES Emergency Management Service – Mapping