NGA assisting in tsunami relief efforts

NGA assisting in tsunami relief efforts

Within hours of the tsunami that struck in the Indian Ocean last week, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency received requests for assistance in using satellite imagery to assess the damage.

'We take requests from lead federal agencies, such as the State Department, the Pacific Command or other federal agencies that need information. They provide the information to whomever they deem appropriate,' said Dave Burpee, chief of public affairs for NGA.

The agency is using its ClearView contractors, through which it purchases commercial satellite services, to provide the images. 'We're buying with an unrestricted license; we can give them to anybody. These are unclassified images that we then make notations on or do something else that makes [them] a value-added product,' he said.

With the ability to show details that are less than one meter across, he said, the agency can generate topographic-style images that show where damage is heaviest, with bridges washed out and no buildings standing. It can also pinpoint areas that suffered moderate or light damage. These gradations make it easier for responding agencies to plan their actions.

The Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Pacific Command and Transportation Command are among the federal groups using the information to more effectively render assistance.

NGA also has authority for alerting maritime agencies with information on navigation safety, Burpee said. It began alerting ships at sea almost immediately after the tsunami struck. Every country is responsible for reporting its own maritime navigation problems, but NGA monitors all the countries' information and retransmits to Navy and merchant marine ships. Commercial ships also can listen in.

'We were sending out warnings [such as] 'Don't trust the buoy positions anymore' and 'Call ahead and check on port access,' ' he said.

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