Expert disaster service underused by Greek authorities

Expert disaster service underused by Greek authorities

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras this week heralded the creation of a new national emergency service in the wake of last month’s deadly wildfires in Attica, but in fact Greece already has an expert agency that has for years been offering its expertise via Copernicus, the European Union’s Earth observation program – chiefly to other countries though. 

Known by its acronym BEYOND (Building a Center of Excellence for Earth Observation Monitoring of Natural Disasters), the agency is part of the National Observatory of Athens. Via Copernicus, it has been sharing its expertise across the region and as far as Chile, Peru and Mozambique. In fact Greece appears to have benefited the least from the homegrown service, Kathimerini has learned. 

“In the period 2016-18 alone, the center has [responded to official requests] via the Copernicus program to provide help to 20 civil protection authorities all over the world, for the timely assessment of risks from earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, wildfires, floods, coastal erosion, toxic gas leaks and industrial accidents,” the observatory’s head of research Haris Kontoes, who also heads the agency, told Kathimerini. 

Set up in 2013 with 2.3 million euros of EU funding, BEYOND now employs a staff of 31 and offer a range of services including the monitoring of forest fires in real time via the award-winning FireHub program, floods via FloodHub, and potential earthquakes via GeoHub.
The agency assesses risks, drafts plans for action and evacuations, uses citizens’ assistance to collect information about natural disasters using the DisasterHub program, and employs drones to record damage. 

However, Greek authorities appear to have made little use of this service over the years. “We were asked once by the [Greek] state to assess the risk of flooding, coastal and soil erosion and landslides after the fire on [Mount] Hymettus,” Kontoes said, apparently referring to the large blaze near Athens in 2015. 

After the disastrous floods in Mandra, western Attica, last November, BEYOND took the initiative and compiled a study of the impact of the flooding. “We did it ourselves,” Kontoes said.

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