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[Legacy] Satellite Imagery for Disaster Response

In humanitarian relief actions, people need information; but information can often not be delivered due to numerous possible causes e.g. lack of network, electricity, etc.

The last missing link between communications could cause the so-called last-mile problem in humanitarian relief missions. By using SMS, the network communication could work anywhere without Internet infrastructure. With cloud computing, all the collection, processing and storage of information are done on the web. People on the ground could get a response SMS with geo-information and further make a plan.

Here’s an example scenario – when a disaster strikes, humanitarian workers on the ground use a mobile app and send an Open GeoSMS (Location in SMS) to request satellite images for an affected area. The server (at a remote location) receives the request and FORMOSAT-2 is tasked to take photos of specified area from space.

Once the images are taken and stored on a server, the raw data can be processed and compiled within 24 hours using two cloud-based open source disaster management platforms, i.e. Ushahidi and Sahana. Humanitarian workers, volunteers and task forces could access the cloud-based applications on their mobile devices to gain a clear picture of situational damage and know how to make better decisions regarding resource allocation or distribution.

In a nutshell, humanitarian workers need meticulous situational awareness of a disaster-affected zone. They need to know how many casualties there are, about how many and which buildings have collapsed, where infrastructure is not working, how they could access and provide necessary assistance e.g. medicine, food, clean water and shelter to the people in need. Timely information could help to save more lives. To best understand how to approach the situation, an overview map of before-and-after disaster on the hotspot would help the disaster management team make the most appropriate decision in a very short timeframe.

Information could facilitate aid. United Nations has one platform called UN-SPIDER for providing space-based information for disaster-affected states. The whole humanitarian system has to respond with agility to destructive disasters. Geoinformation retrieved from space e.g. satellite images could be a vital force in humanitarian operations. Interoperable and processed information provided as a matter of urgency to mobile devices via cloud computing is a realistic solution to the last mile problem.

This model is developed and implemented by the National Space Organization (NSPO), Geographic Information Systems Research Center of Feng Chia University, Tzu-Chi Buddhism Humanitarian Group and GeoThings.


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