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Earth Disasters: A Future Vision Of Response And Recovery Tools

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by Staff Writers
by Dr. Ray Williamson, Executive Director - Secure World Foundation
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 14, 2010 The influence of Earth remote sensing satellites in disaster management can be greatly enhanced over the next decade, becoming a far more powerful tool than today to help mitigate the effects of natural and human-made calamities.

A future look into the unrealized potential of remotely sensed data for pre-, during, and post-disaster scenarios was detailed by Dr. Ray Williamson, Executive Director of Secure World Foundation during a Disasters Roundtable, held July 8 by The National Academies in Washington, D.C.

The roundtable - From Reality 2010 to Vision 2020: Translating Remotely Sensed Data to Assets, Exposure, Damage, and Losses - brought together leading experts from academia, the government and private sector to focus on needed improvements in disaster response and recovery.

In his keynote address, Williamson outlined both positive trends and potential impediments regarding use of spaceborne systems and other technologies.

Response and recovery
"The use of remote sensing - from space and the air - should be a routine and cost-effective means of support to disaster response and recovery," Williamson said. In the near future, remote sensing data should be routinely and quickly geo-referenced and analyzed, he said, resulting in information delivered to first responders within 24 hours of collection.

Williamson also noted that satellite telecommunications can be used more effectively to deliver information to response and recovery teams throughout the recuperation process.

"There are many possible improvements in disaster response and recovery on the horizon," Williamson said. "Response and recovery teams could soon use the latest in smart phones and other related devices to deliver information back to coordinating organizations," he added, to assure safety of life of first responders and to serve afflicted populations.

This is an example of what is becoming known as community remote sensing, or cloud computing.

Empowered by technology
Williamson said that he envisions a world a decade from now in which everyday citizens have broad access to high resolution space-derived data and information about their communities, not only contributing to their own well being, but also providing local data into regional weather and climate models.

"It is also a world where local environmental groups concerned about degradation of local waterways are empowered by technology and their own ingenuity to collect on-the-spot data on water quality and changing shorelines and incorporate them into regional information collected from space platforms," Williamson said.

"However, too often the benefits of geospatial data and tools do not reach broadly enough, especially in developing countries," Williamson said. "Failures often stem from uncoordinated policies at different levels of government, as well as restrictive data policies. Progress will require a lot more attention to removing these institutional and social impediments that now exist in using remote sensing for human benefit."

To help counter these issues, more scientific and technical education and training is needed. "Most important, citizens need to become involved in their own future by using tools developed for them and also by them," Williamson advised.

Internet tools
Today, many more countries and groups are becoming familiar with remote sensing methods, Williamson pointed out. Also, Internet tools, such as Google Earth and Bing, have made the information potential of remote sensing data and concepts much more accessible to the average computer user than ever before.

"My wider vision is a world where individuals and community groups have routine access to satellite and aerial data and use community remote sensing methods to improve their own quality of life," Williamson concluded.

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