Thailand: Space-Age Flood Response
Satellites hovering 35,800 kilometers above the planet are helping to protect people from disasters in countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, where floods affected the lives of millions of people in 2011.
The satellites snap images and transmit them back to Earth, where analysts can pinpoint and predict flooding. National, regional and local officials can use the information to allocate resources, conduct evacuations and enhance coordination.
The maps from the U.N. Institute for Training and Research’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme, for example, are developed with street data from Google and OpenStreetMap. Governments and relief groups can then overlay other information, such as population data. Doing so allows them to more quickly and accurately estimate the number of people in a specific area and allocate resources accordingly.
“Then everybody has the same emergency information, so that increases the coordination,” said Einar Bjorgo, head of the U.N. program’s rapid mapping unit.
In October 2011, Thailand was using this type of data to determine which households should receive flood victims assistance, said Paranat Kerdpol, a spokeswoman for Geo-Informatic and Space Technology Development Agency, which was operating a satellite “war room” in Bangkok.
Meanwhile, U.N. analysts in Geneva were developing a baseline map to better model Thailand’s flooding.
“Technology is not really a major limiting factor anymore. It’s what we do with it,” said Craig Williams, a regional information management officer with the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN, www.irinnews.org