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New Technologies & Natural Disaster Response

Mark Alonzo
There doesn't seem to be a week that goes by when there isn't some natural disaster or extreme weather event that severely affects the human population. Two weeks ago it was Hurricane Sandy that affected 8.5 million people in New York and New Jersey, and this week there has been flooding in Italy. Like Hurricane Sandy, the flooding in Italy has caused widespread devastation and misery, including loss of life. And in both situations geospatial imagery and technology are being used to understand the impact and respond to the disasters. Recent natural disasters are beginning to have a profound impact on the way we live our lives. Not only are we touched by friends, colleagues, and relatives who have been directly impacted by a natural disaster, but the implications are now beginning to have an economical impact. As clean-up and reconstruction operation costs run into millions of Euros and there are now fears that these weather conditions are now having extreme consequences of food production. Italy has battled with its fair share of flooding throughout the year and as a results the country's wine harvest have dropped by 6%, the apple harvest by 22%, pears by 13%, chestnuts by 50%, honey by 25%, and the production of flour, a key component for pasta production, is down 12%. You don't have to be a Professor of Economics to understand that according to the laws of supply and demand, these outcomes will adversely affect prices that we pay in the shops. The only bit of solace I got this week was that in the same newspaper with the article on the terrible floods in Italy, I also read that technology is being developed to help to understand the impact of these natural disasters. This development will help provide timely assistance and support to those who are most in need, as well as insight into what needs to be done post-disaster to try and mitigate the longer term implications. The recently launched SPOT 6 satellite along with its sister satellite SPOT 7 (due to be launched in 2013) and the Pleiades satellites will form a constellation that will provide high resolution images of any site in the world twice daily. This frequency and the high resolution imagery along with the advanced image processing capabilities such as feature extraction and change detection will help us to further understand how we can respond to natural disasters and possibly pre-empt some of the consequences of what seem to have become a more regular occurrence.

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