On a global basis, disasters strike regularly, in both developed and developing countries. Occasionally however, disasters take on monumental proportions, either because of particularly vulnerable populations, a dramatic natural event, or exceptionally unfortunate circumstances. Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti Earthquake, Typhoon Haiyan or the Great East Japan tsunami are examples of catastrophes that hold a special place in our collective memories as mega-disasters from which populations and governments take years to recover and rebuild.
In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, satellite-based Earth Observations (EO) are increasingly used to estimate impact. Grading maps are produced to show damage and to support the response and early recovery process. Focusing on reponse, governments have come together in partnership to act more efficiently through mechanisms such as the International Charter Space and Major Disasters, Sentinel-Asia and the Copernicus Emergency Management Services. These programmes place satellite data in the hands of experts who quickly generate information products. After the initial response to the crisis however, much of the satellite data acquired is no longer available for distribution, and new data are often not collected.
While satellite data could be made available, it is not acquired either because users are not aware of the possibility of its use, or because the benefit of its application to mid and long-term recovery planning and monitoring has yet to be clearly demonstrated to the international recovery community and the national governments of affected areas. In some cases, the necessary data is only available commercially, requiring the demonstration of a greater benefit before users begin to exploit its potential.
Where satellite data has been used to track recovery efforts it has proven extremely useful. After the Haiti earthquake, the French space agency CNES partnered with other organizations to make satellite data available from before and after the event, over a period of several years. Several projects benefitted from this resource, providing baseline mapping to show the vulnerability of buildings to run-off risk, for example, or tracking the evolution of tent villages for the Red Cross, as shown in the figure below.
In order to better understand how satellite-based EO can contribute to major recovery efforts, CEOS created the Recovery Observatory pilot project. The aim of the Observatory is to:
- Demonstrate in a high-profile context the value of using satellite Earth Observations to support recovery from a major disaster:
- near-term (e.g. support to PDNA process); and
- long-term (e.g. major recovery planning and monitoring, estimated to be from 1 to 3 years).
- Work with the recovery community to define a sustainable vision for increased use of satellite Earth observations in support of recovery.
- Establish institutional relationships between CEOS satellite data providers and stakeholders from the international recovery community.
- Foster innovation around high-technology applications to support recovery.
The Recovery Observatory pilot began in 2014. A Recovery Observatory Oversight Team (ROOT) was created with representatives from the satellite data providers, the international recovery stakeholder community and value-added providers. It oversees the development of basic infrastructure, monitors international events for potential triggering and will oversee the implementation of the RO after a major catastrophe. The RO has been ready for triggering since 1 January, 2015. However, throughout 2015, significant investment was made in further developing an IT platform that could host the RO once it is formally established. The current portal:
- displays raw and georeferenced images (only SPOT and Pléiades available at this time; CSK, ALOS-2, TSX, RSAT-2, Sentinel-1 & 2, Landsat-8 to be implemented soon, and US VHR to follow);
- displays information products or other documents (word files, value-added products in pdf format, etc);
- supports geographic and temporal search functions;
- offers a simple registration process;
- allows networks of users to define communities of practice and share resources available for browsing, download, and upload (once RO is established).
You can learn more about the KAL-Haiti project, a pre-cursor to the RO, here (kal-haiti.kalimsat.eu)