When Hurricane Irma cut a path of destruction through the Caribbean this month, authorities on the ground found themselves in the dark, scrambling for information.
High above the storm, satellites from several nations, including Canada, were called into action to track the hurricane’s progress, measure the damage and provide vital information to plan rescue and recovery efforts.
Emergency officials in the U.S. and the Caribbean activated a global agreement that’s been in place for nearly two decades. The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters gives civil protection agencies in disaster-stricken regions free access to data gathered by satellites from more than a dozen government and private space agencies.
In the case of Hurricane Irma, officials in Antigua and Barbuda, the Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic and Haiti received information from Canada’s Radarsat-2 after it passed over the region.
Radarsat, which is owned by MacDonald, Detwiller and Associates and operated, in part, by the Canadian Space Agency, provided Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery which can see through cloud formations and monitor flooding, landslides and other damage brought on by heavy storms.
‘Sometimes having a view from space is a definite advantage. It’s instrumental in planning emergency rescues.’
– Michel Doyon, Canadian Space Agency
“Sometimes having a view from space is a definite advantage,” said Michel Doyon, manager of flight operations at the Canadian Space Agency.
“It provides a global view. It’s instrumental in planning emergency rescues.”
The international charter was established in the year 2000 with the Canadian Space Agency among its founding members. Today, space agencies in China, Japan, Germany, the U.S. and several other countries have signed on.
The charter was invoked 37 times in 2016 and has already surpassed that number this year. Canada activated the agreement in May in response to flooding in Quebec and Ontario.
Satellites have also been called upon this year to monitor forest fires, cyclones and other disasters around the globe.
Since Hurricane Irma, the charter has been activated yet again to monitor the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the devastating earthquake in Mexico City.
For emergency officials dealing with disasters, there are other…