Last week Hurricane Matthews caused widespread devastation, crossing over Haiti, the Bahamas and then up the east coast of the United States. It caused direct damage from the high winds and waves, followed by severe flooding in the US, which is still ongoing. We have been impressed by the amount of imagery that has been made available. Planet Labs supplied imagery of Haiti from before the disaster to help emergency response teams. Then DigitalGlobe and Terra Bella provided imagery of Haiti, the Bahamas and the US from after the event via Google Crisis Response. And finally, NOAA has been supplying aerial imagery of the US coast and the inland flooding as the floods have progressed. You can see the satellite imagery in Google Earth with this KML file from Google Crisis Response and the NOAA aerial imagery with this KML file that we created.
As of this writing, fresh imagery continues to be added to both sets every day:
Les Irois, Haiti.
Greenville, North Carolina. October 15th, 2016. (NOAA imagery)
Kinston, North Carolina. October 15th, 2016. (NOAA imagery)
There have been several other natural disasters this year that had similarly fast responses with imagery.
In April this year, Kumamoto, Japan, experienced a series of large earthquakes. Google managed to capture aerial imagery the day after the first shock and again on the following day after subsequent, more powerful shocks. Whether Google had already been planning to capture imagery there we do not know. Google has since also updated the 3D imagery of Kumamoto.
In August this year, there was a large earthquake in central Italy. We saw some low resolution satellite imagery from Terra Bella, but there was also comprehensive aerial imagery captured almost immediately after the event organised by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service, although sadly that imagery was not made available in Google Earth.
In general, it seems like coverage of natural disasters has been improving. We believe this is due to a several factors:
– There are more satellite imaging companies, with more satellites than ever before.
– There are a number of emergency response programmes that have been getting better and better at obtaining and disseminating imagery, some of which are listed below:
- Google Crisis Response
- DigitalGlobe’s FirstLook program
- Copernicus Emergency Management Service
- USGS Emergency Response
- The better coverage may also reflect an increased tendency to share the imagery with the general public rather than restricting it to emergency response agencies.