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International Experts Blend Space Technologies and Crowdsourcing to Enhance Disaster Management Tools

Newswise — Space-based technologies — from Earth remote sensing spacecraft to global navigation and telecommunications satellites – are potent tools in both shaping disaster preparedness and in dealing with the chaos of responding to natural disasters.

To augment the use of these space technologies, virtual communities of group intelligence – called “Crowdsourcing” – can aide in emergency planning and post-disaster coordination.

An international gathering of more than 60 experts took part in Crowdsource Mapping for Preparedness and Emergency Response, held July 5-6 in Vienna, Austria.

The meeting was organized by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs’ Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER), with the support and cooperation of the Government of Austria and Secure World Foundation.

The two-day agenda of discussion and special sessions brought into sharp focus:

  • How the crowdsource mapping community benefitted from space-based information during the Haiti response efforts
  • Understanding of the specific needs of the emergency response community
  • Consideration of what mechanisms are already in place regarding accessing satellite imagery to support emergency response

One of a kind gathering

“Efforts such as this that bring together disparate communities to benefit the use of space systems for human and environmental security fit our agenda very well,” said Dr. Ray Williamson, Executive Director of Secure World Foundation (SWF). “We are committed to facilitating discussion among these communities for the good of all peoples affected by natural disaster.”

Secure World Foundation is very pleased to continue its cooperation with the UN-SPIDER, said Agnieszka Lukaszczyk, an event organizer and Space Policy Consultant for SWF based in Brussels, Belgium.

“The event co-organized in Vienna was one of a kind where space experts, disaster managers, and people from crowdsourcing community got together and discussed better ways of working together in the area of disaster management,” Lukaszczyk said. “We do hope that this effort was only the beginning of a continuous cooperation among these three communities.”

Additionally, there was discussion on strategies to adequately address intellectual property and copyright concerns. This first expert meeting benefited by leading experts representing crowd-sourcing communities, space agencies, disaster management and civil protection agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, private companies, and regional and international organizations.

The outcome of this expert meeting will be included in a report of the Secretary General of the United Nations which will be considered by the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space when it meets in early 2012. It will also be included as an input to the second expert meeting which is planned for Geneva on November 16 of this year, back-to-back with the next International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2011).

“The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs welcomed working this expert meeting with Secure World Foundation which is the first such meeting on the topic organized by the United Nations for the benefit of all countries. Secure World Foundation’s vision and commitment to ensuring that all countries take advantage of these opportunities is to be noted,” said David Stevens, Program Coordinator for UN-SPIDER.

Technological advancements

In December 2006 the United Nations General Assembly agreed to establish the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response — UN-SPIDER — as a new United Nations program.

UN-SPIDER’s mission statement is to “Ensure that all countries and international and regional organizations have access to and develop the capacity to use all types of space-based information to support the full disaster management cycle”.

In recent years, advancements in technologies have made it possible for virtual communities such as OpenStreetMap, CrisisMappers, Virtual Disaster Viewer, Google MapMaker, Ushahidi, Sahana and Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD) to provide increasing support to disaster preparedness and emergency response efforts.

Important cornerstones of this virtual effort are the possibility to access and take advantage of post-disaster satellite imagery as well as the use of other space-based technologies such as telecommunications satellites and global navigation satellite systems.

Furthermore, by tapping the power of Crowdsourcing, a community of volunteers can generate quality geographical information by the use of remote sensing image analysis tools.

One-year project

To facilitate the connection between Crowdsourcing
expertise with the space industry as well as the disaster management community, the UN-SPIDER Program has initiated a one-year project: “Space-based information for Crowdsource Mapping.” This initiative is aimed at identifying specific actions that could ensure a closer cooperation among the three communities.

For more information on the recently concluded meeting, Crowdsource Mapping for Preparedness and Emergency Response, please contact:
Agnieszka Lukaszczyk
Space Policy Consultant
Secure World Foundation
Avenue des Arts 8
B-1210 Brussels
Phone +32 2 545 11 50
Fax +32 2 545 11 66
Reporter’s Note: To view Lukaszczyk’s presentation — Building Appropriate Institutions to Support the Use of Earth Observations for Human Security – please go to the followong link

About Secure World Foundation

Secure World Foundation (SWF) is headquartered in Superior, Colorado, with offices in Washington, D.C. and Brussels, Belgium.

SWF is a private operating foundation dedicated to the secure and sustainable use of space for the benefit of Earth and all its peoples.

SWF engages with academics, policy makers, scientists and advocates in the space and international affairs communities to support steps that strengthen global space sustainability. It promotes the development of cooperative and effective use of space for the protection of Earth’s environment and human security.

The Foundation acts as a research body, convener and facilitator to advocate for promoting key space security and other space related topics and to examine their influence on governance and international development.

For access to the SWF website