The deputy director of the seven-nation European Air Group, Brig Gen Joachim Wundrak of the German air force, has proposed establishment of a co-operative international disaster information forum.

The proposed forum would see voluntary information releases from countries operating imaging satellites or high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicles as soon as possible after a disaster so that other countries could make more informed decisions on whether to participate in relief operations, to speed up multinational responses to major tragedies such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aviation Support in Relief Operations conference in London on 25 September, Wundrak said "one of the common questions by decision makers in such a situation is what are our allies and what are the other nations doing? Because no-one wants to be seen to be overacting in an unclear situation, as well as to be caught uninformed and react too late".

He said information sharing between countries planning to participate in relief operations is reliant on ad hoc networking, adding that most nations make independent decisions on participating in relief operations on the basis of the level of direct national impact of the disaster, domestic reactions and media pressures.

"It would be very helpful...if nations, especially those which have access to strategic reconnaissance assets, such as satellites and HALEs, could agree on a voluntary process of providing their assessments of the situation - not the raw data or the classified data - but the assessments and possible reactions or plans to their possible partners in an open, direct and time-saving way."

He said the data exchange mechanism could be as simple as an internet toolset that could be accessed by the global relief community.

The concept has parallels with the former US State Department-led proposal for a standing Global Disaster Information Network based on a fleet of Aerovironment Helios HALE UAVs. Ownership of the UAVs and systems would have been shared between member countries. The concept failed in the early 2000s due to a lack of support.

Aerovironment has been awarded a $57 million contract by the US Special Operations Command to build a new version of its Global Observer high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicle. The type will be capable of flying non-stop for up to seven days. The award also includes options for manufacture of two additional aircraft.

Source: Flight International