Airbus Defence and Space

Bringing hope home in Haiti

Representatives from Infoterra joint venture Predict Services happened to be on the ground when disaster struck.

With developments in space-based technologies, there is a greater consciousness of the crucial role that satellite observation systems can and do play in monitoring the world’s weather patterns and tectonic movements, alerting of potential hazards and thus contributing significantly to catastrophe preparedness. And when, unfortunately, disaster does strike, data from the satellite systems can be channelled to optimal effect.

Predict Services map

Representatives from Infoterra joint venture Predict Services happened to be on the ground when disaster struck: at the time of the Haiti earthquake, two members of their team were in Port-au-Prince conducting an ongoing risk assessment study on flooding of 30 communities for the Haitian government. Happily, both employees are safe. Predict Services aims to help communities manage repeated flood crises; the study information, which includes height data, and stakes assessment like population density, has been provided to relief agencies in the country. Even before the earthquake, the Haitians and Predict Services employees were working together on the very subject of managing the effects of natural disasters.

The company’s Guillaume Ferry, who was in Haiti in December, explains, “We were establishing a system of alarms for the whole population. In meetings, we selected people inside the community who could help us implement the plans: people from churches, from associations, respected elders … Everyone was very interested in participating.” The study will now be reorganised and areas considered safe in the event of a flood have to be reassessed. The initial focus on floods and cyclones has had to be expanded to take the earthquake into account. “We have to propose to the aid agencies how to evacuate, how to transfer people, how to bring in water … This will be done until the end of 2010 or 2011,” says Alix Roumagnac, President of Predict Services, again highlighting the long-term nature of the commitment involved.

Lightning reactions

Infoterra itself is also involved in the Haitian earthquake relief efforts. As part of SAFER, the emergency response component of the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) programme that rapidly provides highly detailed imagery and relevant geo-information products to users such as the French and Spanish Civil Protection, the United Nations and the World Food Programme, Infoterra France is responsible for operational coordination. “SAFER (Services And Applications For Emergency Response) was triggered for the first time in April 2009 for the earthquake in Italy, then more than 20 times that year for forest fires in Greece, Portugal and Spain … In October we were involved in an earthquake in Indonesia. Each time a disaster happens we activate the service with image acquisition, extraction of information, delivery of information and operational tools,” explains Gil Denis, Projects and Services Manager for Agriculture, Environment, Risks and Security at Infoterra.

For Haiti, the company is coordinating 10 major service providers involved in these activities. Gil emphasises the quick reaction time. “We received the alert during the night, minutes after the earthquake, because we’re connected to a monitoring team of emergency activities in France.” They then worked day and night, and during the main period of activity, from 12 to 16 January, provided more than 20 images of Port-au-Prince and other cities.

Infoterra’s service also includes generating maps, which have been used by several organisations on Haiti, such as the Spanish Civil Protection agency: “We’ve been using these cartographic services constantly to divide the terrain, organise the tasks of our teams on the ground, identify the most sensitive facilities, such as hospitals, and to delineate areas and security levels,” says Ángela Iglesias, expert in emergency operations, who has just returned from the island. And Gil adds, “Providing the emergency response service for such events allows Spot Infoterra to enhance the reactivity and performance for the acquisition of Earth observation data. For an optimal service with a high revisit frequency, our target is to coordinate the operations of a fleet of satellites, including SPOT, TerraSAR-X, etc. We provide the first map less than six hours after image acquisition.”

Nathalie Behn/Joanne Foster/Álvaro Friera

SPOTTerraSAR-XGeoinformation Services