Home Natural Hazard Management UK leads space disaster charter

UK leads space disaster charter

UK: For the next six months, the UK will chair the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters. It will lead the international effort that co-ordinates the acquisition of satellite pictures whenever there is a natural disaster, BBC reported.

In Britain, the key player is the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) International Imaging company in Guildford, Surrey. It manages five satellites, built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, which are owned individually by Algeria, China, Nigeria, Turkey and the UK. Two further spacecrafts, built for Nigeria, are about to be launched.

Although the charter can call on data from some 30 satellites, these five countries in particular have together created a system specifically designed to respond to disasters. The DMC can acquire satellite images of anywhere on Earth at least once a day.

NGOs, UN agencies and national civil protection centres will use the information to guide their aid efforts on the ground, pinpointing still-passable roads and the best locations to set up refugee camps or mobile medical units.

The charter has already been activated 12 times in 2011. These calls have included requests for satellite imagery of Japan after the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, and for data relating to the flooding in Queensland, Australia, in January.

The most recent activation occurred on 28 April to deal with the flooding in the central mid-west of the US. When disaster strikes a region, the charter’s operations team will check to see which of the members’ satellites are due to pass over the affected area next.

Normally, only a charter member can put the system into operation. Often, this means non-member countries having to seek a charter signatory to act on their behalf, wasting valuable hours before potentially life-saving satellite data is acquired.

During the UK’s leadership, however, it has been agreed that any country can now draw upon the data provided by the system. “If you are going to rely on a proxy to act on your behalf, it will add to the delay in activation; and we know there is great value in acting as swiftly as possible,” Dr Alice Bunn, assistant director of Earth observation for the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the new chair of the charter, said.

The charter has been activated over UK territory five times to date: twice during the 2007 floods, once during the Lyme Bay oil spill that same year and twice during volcanic eruptions on the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat in 2003 and 2008.

The charter was established by the French and European space agencies in 1999 but has since been joined by a range of other organisations, such as the UK Space Agency, that can provide access to remote-sensing satellites.

Source: BBC