RANST, 20 June 2015 – How good are unmanned aircraft and other remote sensing systems in making images and how correct can these data be converted into information that is useful for emergency services in preventing a large-scale disaster? Those were the questions to which the tripartite disaster exercise in the Antwerp province had to provide answers. The organisers were very pleased with the result.

VITO worked on a scenario for a large-scale, live demonstration of the EU project Airbeam, together with her project partners and Campus Vesta. For this, five Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS, better known as drones or UAVs) were used, along with an anchored balloon and an airplane. They had to collect relevant information in near real time on three different locations in the province and forward it to the decision-makers of the emergency team on the field.

The disaster exercise was particularly complex. It had to be carried out simultaneously on three different locations. At the Kalmthoutse Heide fire broke out and a group of children went missing. The Graspop metal meeting festival in Dessel and the wide area of Retie were hit by a severe storm, and at Campus Vesta people were missing and a chemical accident with a leaking tanker caused a public health hazard.

Communicate effectively

Firefighting, chemical intervention, locating missing persons and damage assessment were the main objectives of the exercise. Different remote sensing systems were used: RPAS, balloons, a manned aircraft and satellite images. The biggest challenge of the exercise was to allow all remote sensing systems to communicate effectively with each other.

It was important that not only the data material was collected, but that these data were also converted into usable information for the OSECC, the general coordination centre that managed the entire exercise. From the coordination centre, located in a tent on the grounds of campus Vesta, the command posts (CpOps) on the three locations of the disaster were also provided with the necessary information. In turn, the command posts had to inform their teams on the field. In Kalmthout this was even done via tablets.

Besides the testing of the high-tech systems, the personal skills of the participants and the group competencies had to be practiced.

No less than 150 stakeholders from home and abroad were involved in the whole exercise. Among them firefighters, police, OCHA, Airbeam research partners, supporting actors, …

Afterwards, all parties involved were satisfied with the demo. Airbeam has managed to provide relevant information quickly and tailored to the users so that they could optimise their actions. A more detailed analysis will follow in the coming weeks. But it is certain that the future is open for the use of different remote sensing systems when disaster strikes.

More information

Nicolas Lewyckyj
Researcher VITO
+32 479 97 90 43

Kristine Verheyden
Press & PR VITO
+32 472 250 262


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