Jul 20, 2007

France loans UNHCR state-of-the-art telecoms tool for emergencies

Estimated Article Reading Time: 2 min.

France’s Casques Rouges Foundation has agreed to loan UNHCR a state-of-the-art communications tool which will allow the refugee agency to keep in touch with emergency teams in countries like Chad, where the Emergesat will be deployed and tested later this year.

The compact piece of equipment, which is the length of a small car and about half the height, was handed over to High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres during a ceremony Tuesday evening at the French diplomatic mission in Geneva.

Developed by a French industry association led by Alcatel and its Thales Alenia Space group, it combines satellite communications for earth observation, location and navigation solutions with ground-based radio technologies. It allows headquarters, country offices and emergency centres to keep in touch with field officers working in remote and harsh environments where communications facilities are weak or non-existent.

It will be flown to Chad in October and a report will be compiled about its performance over a three-month trial period. This will allow the equipment to be fine-tuned before it is deployed by UNHCR in an emergency operation.

Guterres thanked the developers of Emergesat and the private Casques Rouges Foundation, which owns the equipment. “During the trial period in Chad, we will be working hard to make the most of its potential and we are delighted to be working with you to ensure the effectiveness of humanitarian work under difficult conditions around the world” he told Nicole Guedj, a former government minister who heads the French foundation.

Guedj said that putting the equipment at UNHCR’s disposal would help her group organize cooperation with other partners on the ground. “The Emergesat container will thus become a database allowing exchanges between the different actors for coordination actions.”

Michel Castellanet, who headed the development team behind Emergesat, gave a demonstration of its technologies. He said that locally, the state-of-the-art equipment would allow teams to set up wire-free telecommunications networks [such as GSM, WiFi and VHF] within a 30-kilometre radius.

“The satellite technologies will allow teams to keep in touch with rear bases, hospitals and the offices of organizations involved in management of the crisis,” he noted, while adding that Emergesat also allowed for video conferences, video reportage, global positioning services and internet access.

Stéphane Imberton, UNHCR informations systems officer, said the Emergesat container offered complete integration of technologies necessary in the first moments of an emergency operation. “This equipment has been designed to be deployed immediately, at the key moment when telecommunications have an impact on the aid distributed to refugee and displaced populations.”

UNHCR technicians have been involved in the development of the system, which can be easily transported by plane and works under extreme weather conditions. Capable of being operated anywhere in the world, it is powered by battery and has a generator unit.
Michel Baduraux, a doctor in UNHCR’s medical unit, said Emergesat would help medics decide whether injured or ill people needed to be evacuated from a crisis area. “Emergesat allows us to take our decision after a precise evaluation of the situation, after seeing the patient and after assessing the results of the first reliable analyses.”

By Haude Morel in Geneva1

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Source: UNHCR.