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Emergency alertsNew app helps in accurate reporting of disasters

Published 20 July 2015

A new free smartphone app has been developed for detecting and monitoring forest fires and their impact on the southern region of France, Catalonia, Canary and Balearic islands, Corsica, and& Sardinia. The app, downloadable for Google and Apple platforms, allows everyone to exercise citizen oversight, reporting all types of natural events, including forest fires, floods, and avalanches, and their impacts.

A new free smartphone app has been developed for detecting and monitoring forest fires and their impact on the southern region of France, Catalonia, Canary and Balearic islands, Corsica, and& Sardinia.

In association with the start-up SIGNALERT, the Mediterranean Ecosystems and Risks unit (EMAX) of the National Institute for Science and Technology for Enironment and Agriculture (IRSTEA), located near Aix-en- Provence, France, is testing a free smartphone application for crowd-mapping and citizen science. The testing of SIGNALERT, an app for environmental monitoring, will focus on the monitoring of forest fires in the south of France throughout the summer and fall of 2015.

The SIGNALERT society, which has developed the smartphone application, says it is downloadable from Google and Apple platforms, allowing everyone to exercise citizen oversight, reporting all types of natural events, including floods and avalanches, and their impacts.

The EMAX unit of IRSTEA helped the project by developing the description questionnaire for forest fires. IRSTEA also integrated the questionnaire for avalanches and snow falls with SIGNALERT.

For the user, the operation takes only a few moments to provide vital information about the observed phenomenon and its effects. The user’s smartphone app provides choices, and the user selects the one closest to what he observes. He can answer every question or he can pass and move to the next.

The interface is intuitive, and understandable for all users. There are two options for use: the messages can be broadcast immediately, or they can be postponed until network coverage is available or the user has left the danger zone.

IRSTEA says that the use of the application allows the centralization of important information better to locate and describe natural phenomena and their impact. These descriptions complement the measures of institutional networks and are designed to increase the available information. Emergency response, if necessary, may be facilitated through the use of this app. The user can share his description of the phenomena with other nearby users, and receive back information about the observations of other users nearby on a map; they can interact with each other via social networks as well. The application also offers advice on appropriate behavior when facing danger.

Users will also find in the application useful information on what to do during and immediately after the event they are reporting about, and can see what other users have been able to send nearby on a map; they can access advice for appropriate behavior and find links to official sites monitoring the situation or sending out alert messages.

The application is currently available in French and English, and will soon be available in Spanish; it works worldwide and allows for the description of low-intensity phenomena, as well as extreme events which do not occur on French territory.

The smartphone app has a paid version which offers the option to receive real-time alert notifications sent by the app from other nearby points of interest chosen by the user (home, vacation destinations, etc.). For now, the monitoring operation covers a large part of the south of France, going over the border into Spain and Italy, and covers Corsica, Sardinia, and the Balearic and Canary Islands.

With effective deployment, this application will allow for the improvement of the knowledge about, monitoring and management of, and intervention in forest fires. A real-time analysis of alerts sent via the application can detect even a new fire from the first reports sent, which complements the existing monitoring systems in France and can even improve their performance.

Analysis of the alerts will determine whether the use of this dedicated application allows better characterization of dangerous phenomena. Reports with SIGNALERT can be forwarded on social networks for sharing with local or remote users, increasing the accuracy of what is shared on Twitter or Facebook on disasters.

To learn more about the application, see this Web page.