Situational awareness and monitoring

With so many member states and other partners involved in operations, and the quantity of data that needs to be sorted and analysed, information management is an important aspect of Frontex’s work. With over 42,000 km of coastline, almost 9,000 km of land borders and around 300 international airports, Europe sees around 500 million border crossings a year. The job of managing the flow of legal and illegal migration requires a clear picture of the current situation at all the EU’s external borders — from airports as well as from the EU’s other approximately 1800 Border Crossing Points both on land and at sea ports.

In response to this need, the Frontex Situation Centre (FSC) was created. FSC has the task of providing a constantly updated picture, as near to real time as possible, of Europe’s external borders and migration situation. But the FSC has more than an information-gathering function. It acts as a central point of contact and information access for all Frontex stakeholders. It is also a vital part of Frontex’s rapid-response mechanism in the event of an emergency situation occurring anywhere at the external border. To ensure this, FSC has multiple functions to fulfil within the Frontex apparatus.

Situation monitoring — This is FSC’s core function. All other areas of the centre’s activity contribute in some way to its ability to provide as detailed, accurate and up-to-date a picture as possible of the situation at the EU’s external borders. FSC provides situation and crisis monitoring, delivering early alerts and situation reports to internal and external customers.

Central point of contact — In order to ensure effective communication, FSC provides a clear point of official contact (incoming and outgoing) between Member States and Frontex as well as for other external partners.

Joint operational support — FSC processes incoming data from all fields of operation, collating and processing it into daily situational pictures of what is happening on the ground. This processing includes checking the quality of incoming data and ensuring it is available in the right format for further analysis. Frontex has developed its own specialised reporting systems that allow all participants in joint operations to share information effectively.

Media monitoring — An indispensable element of staying abreast of the bigger picture is constantly monitoring open and media sources.

Mission awareness and back-up — The aim of mission awareness is to keep the relevant Frontex staff informed about critical areas and any other pertinent information about countries outside the EU.

Crisis management support — In the event of a rapid intervention being deployed, it is FSC’s role to ensure that all in-house procedures are followed correctly and to monitor the progress of the emergency support measures.


Eurosur is the information-exchange framework designed to improve the management of Europe’s external borders. It aims to support Member States by increasing their situational awareness and reaction capability in combating cross-border crime, tackling irregular migration and preventing loss of migrant lives at sea.

The backbone of Eurosur is a network of National Coordination Centres (NCCs). Each member state establishes an NCC, which groups the authorities responsible for border control in a given member state. The main role of the NCC is to coordinate the border surveillance activities on national level and serve as a hub for the exchange of information.

The NCCs collect local and national information about what takes place at the border, including illegal border crossings and criminal activity. The data processed by the NCC personnel creates a national situational picture. The NCCs are also responsible for sharing the relevant information with other member states and Frontex. Based on this input and information from other sources, Frontex creates the European situational picture and the common pre-frontier intelligence picture (focused on areas beyond the Schengen Area and EU borders).

The two pictures created by Frontex contain information on the events that recently took place at the borders, operational activities and analysis. These are created and maintained by Frontex and shared with Member States through the NCC network. None of the information currently exchanged within Eurosur contains personal data.

In addition to maintaining and sharing the situational pictures, Frontex also provides information collected from satellites and other surveillance tools at the European level. Member states can use such information to further improve their situational awareness. The collection of these services, called Eurosur Fusion Services, facilitates access to state of the art technologies, help reduce the duplication of efforts by member states and reduces costs.

The Eurosur Fusion Services include automated vessel tracking and detection capabilities, software functionalities allowing complex calculations for detecting anomalies and predicting vessel positions, as well as precise weather and oceanographic forecasts. Fusion Services use optical and radar satellite technology to locate vessels suspected to be engaged in people smuggling that often puts the lives of migrants in danger. Many of the services are delivered in cooperation with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the EU Satellite Centre (SatCen).

Besides close-to-real-time services, Frontex also makes available a wide range of analytical products tailored for operational use within Eurosur.

Eurosur goes beyond situational awareness by indicating the adequate level of operational reaction at different border sections. For this purpose, Member States have divided their external land and sea borders into sections. Each of this border sections is attributed an impact level — low, medium or high — which refer to the security of a given border section assessed against identified risk levels for illegal border crossing or cross-border crime. Measures to be taken to reduce the risks remain the responsibility of individual Member States, although in the case of “high impact level” border areas they may request operational assistance from Frontex in the form of prioritised spatial services, a joint operation or rapid intervention.

The Eurosur Regulation contains a range of fundamental rights safeguards, including the principles of data protection and non-refoulement, or the practice of not forcing migrants to return to a state where they may be subject to persecution.


Copernicus, is a programme managed and coordinated by the European Commission. Its purpose is to increase situational awareness by providing Europe with accurate, reliable and up-to-date data collected from satellites and on-site sensors.

Copernicus services cover six thematic areas: Atmosphere Monitoring, Marine Monitoring, Land Monitoring, Climate Change, Emergency Management and Security.

The objective of the Copernicus Security Service is to support the related EU policies in the following priority areas: Border Surveillance, Maritime Surveillance and Support to EU External Action. Frontex has been entrusted by the European Commission with the Border Surveillance component.

The Delegation Agreement between Frontex and the European Commission on the Implementation of the Border Surveillance Component of the Copernicus Security Service was signed on the 10th of November 2015. The agreement entitles Frontex to act as the single and central point for the acquisition, fusion and delivery of these services until 2020.

In the light of security challenges in the area of external borders, the objective of the border surveillance component is to increase situational awareness by mapping, monitoring and providing risk assessment, in order to achieve the following goals:

  • reduce the number of irregular migrants entering the EU undetected;
  • reduce the death toll of irregular migrants by rescuing more lives at sea, and
  • improve internal security of the European Union as a whole by contributing to the prevention of cross-border crime.

The Border Surveillance Component of the Copernicus Security Service complements the portfolio of services already delivered by Frontex through Eurosur Fusion Services (EFS). EFS is a set of services delivered to the Member States and other stakeholders. This is done in cooperation with several external partners, including the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), the EU Satellite Centre (EU SatCen), the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), and commercial partners.

These Earth Observation activities have contributed to a number of significant achievements at the EU external borders.

Listed below are some practical examples of how this successful cooperation saves lives, protects the borders and prevents cross-border crime:

  • Interception of a vessel smuggling drugs: in December 2015, the cargo vessel ‘Munzur’ was intercepted by Italian authorities as part of the joint operation ‘Triton’. The data provided by via EFS helped the Italian authorities track the ship, resulting in the seizure of the 13 tonnes of drugs found aboard.
  • Detection of a migrant boat in the Mediterranean: In October 2015, the vessel detection service (VDS) contributed to saving lives in the Mediterranean. A VDS scan of the area north of Libya indicated four objects not corresponding to any known vessel in the area. This information was swiftly forwarded to the Italian authorities, who in turn notified the military authorities (EUNAVFOR MED) operating in the area. This fast communication made possible the quick response of an EUNAVFOR MED vessel, which encountered four boats in the area indicated. All of the migrants – a total of 370 people – were rescued and delivered to safety off the Italian coast.
  • Detection of a migrant boat in the Alboran Sea: In September 2014, the vessel detection service (VDS) was undergoing testing in the Alboran Sea area. At the time, a search and rescue mission had been activated to locate a lost migrant boat in the open sea in the area. The VDS test revealed an object at sea, and the exact location was passed to the Spanish authorities. The following morning, a small rubber boat was found and its 38 occupants saved. The boat had been adrift for over 24 hours following an engine malfunction. 
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