Styrian Mountain Rescue: satellite applications for improved Alpine safety in Austria

The user

Styria is a mountainous region in the south-east of Austria. It is the second largest of the nine federated states, covering 16,401 km². Styrian Mountain Rescue is the regional branch of the Austrian Mountain Rescue Service (ÖBRD) association. Counting 53 local sites, 1,600 mountain rescuers and 22 search dogs, the Styrian Mountain Rescue service is called upon on average 1,200 times per year.

The challenge

Several hundred people die every year in the Austrian Alps. The increasing mountainous tourism entails a variety of high risks. In case of accidents, the race against time is crucial and needs to be supported as much as possible. One tenth of the rescue missions are classified as “large mission”, in which more than 50 mountain rescuers are involved. The missions are divided into several mobile teams and include members of external organisations, like the rescue dog brigade or the crisis intervention team. A solid and structured coordination is thus needed for a successful intervention and a single system for mission coordination and documentation was required.

The satellite solution

Since 2015, Styrian Mountain Rescue has been using the SARONTAR (Situational Awareness and Command & Control of Rescue Forces in Alpine Regions) service. It was developed and first tested through the European Space Agency’s Integrated Applications Promotions programme integrating both satellite navigation and satellite communication.

The service is composed of a smartphone app for the rescue teams on the ground and a centralised software for the mission control centre.

The app automatically transmits positioning data ― including time stamps based on satellite navigation ― to the mission control centre at constant intervals. It also offers a mapping function displaying all important and relevant geo-information concerning the ongoing mission. The map supports the orientation of the team and helps monitor the mission. This map is based on high-resolution orthophotos and topographic maps. Finally, the app also enables rescue team to communicate faster and better with the control centre by exchanging messages with only a few clicks.

When terrestrial networks are unavailable, an external satellite communication modem is used to provide a reliable and seamless communication between rescue forces, mission controllers and emergency management centres. The connection between the smartphone and the satellite modem is established via Bluetooth and the switching between terrestrial and satellite communication is fully automatic.

The results

SARONTAR provides the mission control centre with an up-to-date and comprehensive view of the mission state at any time. The exchange of information provided by the service, through stable communication links, is a major benefit compared to the past situation. Another asset and a key enabler is the automatic rescue mission documentation, since a lot of effort can be avoided after the mission for the rescue teams, the mission control, and the emergency management centre. Due to the seamless documentation, information losses are avoided and the data recorded in a rescue mission report can be also used at court.

The permanent knowledge of current positions of the mobile teams provided by SARONTAR is a major benefit compared to prior mission coordination. SARONTAR enables faster localisation of missed persons, facilitates and reduces the decision-making process in the mission control centre and increases security of the rescue teams. Stefan Schröck, Regional Manager of Mountain Rescue Service Liezen