Increasing natural hazards and complex emergencies require optimizations in the Swiss civil protection system. Joining the EU’s Copernicus program could ensure satellite imagery access for disaster risk reduction, helping to save lives, argues Jurgena Kamberaj in this issue of the CSS Policy Perspectives series.
- Satellite imagery has proven crucial to the management of disasters and complex crises, assisting in preparedness, response, and recovery efforts and enhancing the protection of populations against hazards.
- Despite the effectiveness of the Swiss Rapid Mapping Service, Switzerland’s lack of a national Earth Observation program hinders its ability to leverage satellite imagery for disaster risk reduction.
- Swiss authorities could secure swift and reliable access to satellite data through engagement with initiatives such as the EU’s Copernicus program. The effective use of this data requires training, institutional awareness, and its integration throughout all phases of crisis management.
In 1972, the Apollo 17 crew captured an iconic photograph of Earth from space, known as the Blue Marble. This image provided a groundbreaking perspective of our planet, revealing its blue oceans, white clouds, and vast landmasses. By capturing the South Pole ice cap for the first time and a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal, the image marked an important milestone in Earth science and Earth Observation (EO).
Since the Blue Marble photo, geospatial data, and especially satellite imagery, has found diverse applications across industries and sectors, most notably in disaster response and crisis management. In Switzerland, the Rapid Mapping Service (RMS) of the Federal Office of Topography swisstopo, utilizes satellite imagery to aid authorities in documenting damage following an event caused by natural hazards. However, Switzerland faces significant constraints in using satellite imagery for disaster management because it does not have its own EO satellites. A promising solution to this challenge is the Swiss participation in Copernicus, the EO component of the EU Space Programme.
Switzerland has a history of enhancing its crisis management systems after disasters have occurred, such as with the establishment of the RMS following floods in 2005. Yet, with the unpredictable nature of complex emergencies, the civil protection system needs a forward- thinking shift. A pivotal change would be to fully leverage RMS throughout the disaster management cycle before another major event strikes. This approach should prioritize the promotion of training and testing of the RMS during minor emergencies and the strengthening of institutional engagement, which can enhance emergency response strategies, especially at the cantonal level.