Eyes on Earth Episode 36 – International Charter Turns 20

Download
Right-click and save to download

Detailed Description

When a disaster like a hurricane, flood or major wildfire hits a remote part of the world, the International Charter Space and Natural Disasters springs into action. The Charter’s members collect and distribute satellite-derived data that documents the damage, as well as derived products like as fire perimeter or structural damage maps – all at no cost to national emergency management agencies. In this episode of Eyes on Earth, we learn about the Charter and EROS’ involvement on the occasion of the collaborative organization’s 20th Anniversary.
 

Details

Episode Number: 36

Date Taken:

Length: 00:11:43

Location Taken: Sioux Falls, SD, US

Credits

Guest: Mike Budde, USGS

Host: Tom Adamson
 

Transcript

TOM ADAMSON: 
Hello Everyone. Welcome to another episode of Eyes on Earth. This is a podcast that focuses on our everchanging planet and on the people here at EROS and across the globe who use remote sensing to monitor and study the heath of Earth. My name is Tom Adamson, your host for this episode, where we are talking about the 20th Anniversary of something called the International Charter. Our guest is Mike BUDDE the USGS liaison to the International Charter. So Mike, I first have to clarify what we call this thing. I believe the formal name of the organization is the International Charter Space and Major Disasters. But is there kind of a shorthand that we can use?
MIKE BUDDE: 
Yes, essentially what you use there, you know that is the formal name but often referred to as just the International Charter or the Charter.
ADAMSON: 
Ok. Fair enough. So, in a nutshell, tell us what's the basic idea? How does the Charter work?
BUDDE: 
The Charter is made up of 17 member agencies and what they do is essentially provide free of cost satellite imagery for National Disaster Management Agencies to deal with disaster monitoring.
ADAMSON: 
What kind of disasters as we talking about then?
BUDDE: 
Well, it can be either natural disasters or manmade. So manmade disasters things like oil spills, industrial accidents. We have had each of those recently with the industrial accident in Lebanon and the oil spill off the coast of Mauritius. But natural disasters by far are the most common. Of the natural disasters, floods are the most common. Floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fires...all of these are natural disasters that the charter responds to.
ADAMSON: 
And you mentioned 17 members of the charter. Where are these members from?
BUDDE: 
Well, all over the world, actually. There are two members from the U.S. USGS & NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) is a member as well. Then there are members in Brazil, Europe (many parts of Europe actually), Russia, China, Japan, Korea so really across the globe there's members. 
ADAMSON: 
So they are providing this data at no cost for the charter to use. How does the charter get the data to where it needs to go?
BUDDE: 
We have kind of an operational system in place. So the way it functions is, there is a request for support. That can come from a national disaster management agency or many different sources. In the U.S., that typically would come from FEMA or the National Guard. And how that works then, we have what are called authorized users. I function in that role for the U.S. I would initiate the activation into our system which would then spawn off a number of actions where the request is evaluated, then there are a number of other roles that need to be filled. So there's a project manager which really orchestrates the activation from its beginning. That person works both with the person who requested, so works with the authorized user, as well as the end user. So the national emergency management agency that would actually be using the data on the ground. It's quite a process, but one that we have automated to a great degree so it's really has improved our ability to respond.
ADAMSON: 
What if the activation is in a location where the infrastructure might have been damaged or something like that in the disaster?
BUDDE: 
Yeah, that is kind of a tough question. Obviously you never know what the outcome of a disaster is going to be in terms of infrastructure and that type of thing but that's one of the things that the charter provides is input to people on the ground who are managing the disaster on things such as bridges that are no longer accessible or roads that are no longer accessible. You are getting at the issue of getting the information to the people who need it. Typically, there's going to be some infrastructure in place for a disaster management agency to receive the information from the charter. I don't know that I've ever heard of or certainly experienced a situation where there was no communication available to provide the data.
ADAMSON: 
Yeah, you know part of this is ... for example I went to the Charter website and looked at a recent activation for a flood in Sudan. There is just a dizzying amount of data available for that activation in particular. It said 261 acquisitions. Is that normal?
BUDDE: 
At this time, it is. We really do acquire quite a large volume of data for activations. In fact, we have some that have acquired many more than that even. The fires in Australia. There was a dizzying amount of data acquired for that event and that really comes down to something that is important for the project manager to be able to deal with is sorting through all those data and making sure that the most useful data is being made available to address the issues at hand. So we've really done a lot in terms of our automated system that houses those data and allows the user to sort through and filter data sets to get to what they need the most.
ADAMSON: 
The Charter provides at least some way to make it easier for the user to get at what they need.

BUDDE: Yes. So we have what is called COS-2. it's a Charter Operational system. Once an activation is started all those people involved in working on it have access to this system and are able to view data coming in and view products that are generated by what are called value added providers. We oftentimes will partner with specific groups that analyze data and generate the informational products. Providing the data is one thing but getting actionable information in the hands of the people who need it is a big goal.
ADAMSON: 
So the Charter has been around for 20 years now. Do you know if there is someone who sort of got the idea started back in the year 2000? 
BUDDE: 
Yes. In 1999 following a Yuma Space Conference there were discussions between the European Space Agency and the French Space Agency CNES and they are really the two that initiated the Charter from the beginning and they were soon joined by the Canadian Space Agency so, in 2000 the Charter was deemed operational. Since that time as I said 14 more members have joined including the USGS joining in 2005.
ADAMSON: 
So USGS got involved in 2005. How did EROS come to be a part of it then?
BUDDE: 
Even prior to our involvement in 2005 we had a role during the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004. Brenda Jones, a former employee at USGS, was really instrumental in EROS' involvement in the Charter and holds some legendary status among it's members. She was very active at the beginning, and she did some organization in support of that tsunami in Indonesia in December of 2004 where Landsat data was used to show the impacts before and after the tsunami event. It was shortly after that, that USGS became an official member of the Charter. I think we'll continue to respond to more and more disasters because they are becoming somewhat commonplace and are happening more frequently.
ADAMSON: 
Certainly a lot of the data we use is optical data for example Landsat you can see what is going on, on the ground before and after like you mentioned. Landsat is really good at providing that kind of data. I'll bet we have a lot more than just optical data though as part of the Charter that they need to use.
BUDDE: 
Yeah. Typically optical data is used for accessing damage assessments, after a storm has moved through for instance or fires. But oftentimes in both fires and storms such as hurricanes or typhoons you have atmospheric issues to deal with so clouds in the case of hurricanes and smoke in the case of fires. So Synthetic Aperture Radar data is a big part of the assets the Charter provides, and we have several members and countries that provide radar data to the Charter. It is often used at the beginning of an event such as a hurricane because of its ability to see through clouds so we often do a combination of requests for radar data initially then oftentimes optical data after the fact to access damage.

ADAMSON: 
Well there is a lot of different kinds of data out there. It's interesting that it all can come together to help out with these events.
BUDDE: 
Yeah, we have data available at many different scales. So you mentioned Landsat at 30 meter resolution but then we have optical sources that provide data at 7 meter resolution as well so we can get down to doing mapping of individual structures that are damaged.
ADAMSON: 
Okay, they all complement one another.
BUDDE: 
Yeah, exactly.
ADAMSON: 
The data is provided at no cost from all of these organizations but there must be some funding needed. How is the Charter funded?
BUDDE: 
The data being provided free of cost is an important aspect for sure. The operations that go on behind the charter, do require some funding. That is usually done at the agency level through different sources. In terms of USGS, the National Land Imaging Program sponsors the cost of operations and my liaison activities for the Charter. There's different levels of involvement as well. So there's some agencies and members that devote a much larger portion of their time to the Charter than others. It's really thought of as a best effort initiative and we do our best to support the charter with the amount of time we have devoted to it.
ADAMSON: 
What has changed the most in the last 20 years?
BUDDE: 
The obvious thing that's changed is a lot of things that used to be done by email or a telephone call is automated within that operational system. So we are constantly upgrading that COS-2 system to make management of the activation easier and more streamlined.
ADAMSON: 
I imagine computer processing has just gotten faster over time.
BUDDE: 
It has, and we learn things, more efficient ways of doing things along the way. So that's been big improvements in our operational side. One thing that we are doing is working on having processing platforms as part of our operational system. So what would happen there is users could actually come to that system, and there would be a platform to interact with the data and be able to actually generate value added products such as flood inundation maps and damage assessment.
ADAMSON: 
Ok, more than just satellite or remote sensing data but some derived maps based on that data. That sounds really helpful.
BUDDE: 
Yeah, exactly. So we currently do that through what I referred to earlier as value added providers and what they have to do is download the data to their local systems and analyze it there. But what this would do is allow users to come into the one system where the data is already housed and analyze it and generate products on one of these platforms.
ADAMSON: 
Do you say that is something that is coming soon or something that you can do right now?
BUDDE: 
It will be an enhancement to our operational system in the near future.
ADAMSON: 
We've been talking to Mike Budde, the USGS liaison to the International Charter about how the Charter has been helping people recover from disasters for the last 20 years. We hope you come back for the next episode of Eyes on Earth. This podcast is a product of the US Geological Survey, Department of the Interior. Thanks for joining us.