Satellite images point relief teams to disaster sites

Driving in circles while your navigator fumbles with a map may be a ritual of the summer vacation, but having accurate maps to get to an incident site during a natural disaster or terrorist attack is absolutely essential.

The federal government’s Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness (OCIPEP) is creating those tools with the purchase of satellite imaging data covering eight border areas and towns, including Yukon/Alaska, Quebec/Vermont, and Ontario’s border with Michigan and New York.

The imaging data is being purchased from Denver-based Space Imaging through Vancouver reseller PhotoSat Imaging Ltd. as part of joint Canada/U.S. border security efforts after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Ian Becking, manager of geomatics for OCIPEP, says the satellite imaging will be used to create super accurate image-based maps of Canada’s border areas, supplementing imaging data purchased last year covering most major Canadian cities.

“”People get a lot more out of a picture sometimes then they do out of a flat map,”” says Becking. “”We’re using this as base information.””

The imaging OCIPEP purchased is archived data already acquired by the satellite. The images are both black and white and colour, one meter in resolution, covering areas the government identified based on the density of infrastructure and the relative populations in the area.

Becking’s group uses satellite imaging data and other information to develop decision support products for government departments. Specifically, they create maps that show the nature and scope of a situation and density of infrastructure to assist other groups in doing their jobs.

“”We can use it to do change detection, if there’s a situation occurs like a critical infrastructure failure or natural disaster,”” says Becking. “”We can get new imagery and show people what changes occurred from the archived to the new data.””

A flood is one example of how these map images could be used. In this case, a terrain model with medium resolution flood DEMs (digital elevation models), would be used in conjunction with the map.

“”If we’re told that the water level of the river will rise two meters, we could artificially raise the water level two meters using the software and use the image to show people where the water could go, based on the terrain,”” says Becking. “”Another way is just to show people what is in the area.””

Becking says they’ll probably look at updating the images within four or five years, depending on population and infrastructure growth in those areas.

“”Certain areas, say in the Yukon, the population isn’t likely to grow,”” says Becking. “”It will depend on how the infrastructure develops within those areas.””

Gary Napier, a spokesperson for Space Imaging, says the imaging data purchased by OCIPEP is from the company’s IKONOS satellite, which has taken over one million images since it was launched in September of 1999.

“”One of the basic tenets of homeland security is, know where everything is so you can protect it, and then if something happens to it know where it is so your first responders can get to it,”” says Napier.

The satellite can see any place in the world every three days, taking 98 minutes for a complete orbit and traveling around the world 14 times a day. Napier says the images are mainly used to create very accurate maps.

Napier adds that not only are the maps are very accurate, they’re visual too. Unlike a line map or a road map where it’s sometimes a little difficult to understand the scale, with an image map it’s instantly understood.

“”The latitude and longitude is embedded in every pixel of the digital imagery,”” says Napier. “”It’s very visual so you can tell the type of vegetation and terrain, you can see where there’s buildings, you can even see how high the buildings are because of shadows, and you can tell where the roads and waterways are.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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