Nowadays, satellite imaging technology has an expanding number of different applications including those related to Crisis Management. For instance, the management of technical or natural disasters can be enhanced and supported by satellite images of the target area. Moreover, the data from the satellites imaging sensors can be utilized for the area of interest mapping or for the damage assessment. In this article, several sample applications will be briefly presented and described.
Firstly, the images from the satellite are commonly used for mapping applications. This provides the opportunity for easy visualization of the area affected by a crisis. A detailed map of the area, can be enhanced by adding information layers. These layers can include the possible evacuation routes, distribution of the first responders and other crisis management personnel. Moreover, the affected and threatened areas can be clearly marked, for example, when concerning the flood scenario. Apart from the standard camera’s imagery, which can used for flood monitoring, the satellites usually incorporate thermal vision instruments. Thermal data are particularly practical for wildfires monitoring. Again, additional information, such as the expected spreading directions of the fire, or estimated wind impact can be easily visualized on the satellite map. What is more, the satellite data can be fused with the weather sensors or maps in order to enhance the overall situational awareness during the crisis.
Together with the aerial photographs, satellite images constitute the basis in decision making process. According to the 2014 research[i], this kind of images are more intelligible than maps. Moreover, it is stated that the critical problems are solved faster by experienced crisis management personnel when they are making use of satellite and aerial images. The main functionality of this technology, in this field, is to improve the situational awareness and provide an intelligible data, that can be a basis for critical decisions.
Another application of the satellite imaging is the damage assessment of the disaster. The affected area images can be captured via the satellite. The images from prior and after the crisis can be compared manually or automatically (e.g. by image processing techniques) in order to estimate the overall damage (e.g. terrain devastation, building collapse). The satellite images were included into the Alberta government’s application that shows the Fort McMurray wildfire damage (Canada, May 2016). The sample image, that was available can be seen in the following figure. According to the article[ii], the future images set is expected to provide detailed enough data for assisting in insurance claims.
The other examples of the applications, where the satellite imagery were used in the fields of damage assessment and disaster relief, can be shortlisted[i]: impact assessment for the Indian Ocean Tsunami (December, 2004), overview on forest fires in Portugal (2005), earthquake relief support for Pakistan (2005).
In a conclusion, the satellite imaging technology has a great potential for crisis management applications. The latest satellite imagery is included in some of the tools that are utilized during the SECTOR Project (e.g. Google Crisis Maps[ii], Copernicus Emergency Management Service[iii]).