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Glenn Reese
Glenn Reese
SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER, MONITORING SOLUTIONS, DIGITALGLOBE, USA. Glenn joined DigitalGlobe in 2005 and is responsible for the strategy and vision of the Monitoring Series products and services. His familiarity with customer requirements and deep domain experience are valuable contributions to … More »

A look into Hurricane Sandy and the Moore, Oklahoma Tornado, USA – How DigitalGlobe quickly provides insight following global disasters and events

September 17th, 2013 by Glenn Reese

Rapid, comprehensive, global satellite coverage is an invaluable asset for responding to major disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tropical cyclones and fires. With five satellites orbiting the globe, DigitalGlobe owns and operates the World’s most agile constellation of high-resolution commercial earth imaging satellites, collects more than 2.5 million square kilometers every day and can revisit the same location daily. Expected to launch in 2014, WorldView-3 will further increase the capability of our constellation with its newly added super-spectral, shortwave infrared (SWIR) and cloud, aerosols, vapor, ice, snow (CAVIS) sensors.

DigitalGlobe’s FirstLook online subscription service for emergency managers and enterprise customers leverages our constellation and DigitalGlobe Cloud Service (DGCS) technology to provide fast, web-based access to pre- and post-event imagery of world events and disasters.   By analyzing the before and after images, DigitalGlobe enables first responders and people on the ground to see the full extent of the situation and effectively plan a course of action following major disasters and events. The collected imagery can be deeply integrated into customer workflows to reduce turnaround time and enable rapid decision making by providing subscription access and standardized data hosting. As we all know, when disaster strikes, there’s no time to waste, so getting this infrastructure set up in advance is critical to a quick response that can often help save lives.

For example, DigitalGlobe activated FirstLook to respond to Hurricane Sandy on October 28, 2012 at 12 p.m. EST, approximately 12 to18 hours before Hurricane Sandy made landfall. Early activation allowed for rapid collection and dissemination of pre- and post-event satellite imagery to first responders in the field, where it was needed most. In total, DigitalGlobe’s satellites collected 26,030 square kilometersof imagery (that’s more than the entire land area of New Jersey) in the hardest hit areas, including New York City, Long Island, and the New Jersey coastline (Figure 1).   While clouds played a major factor in the ability to collect quality imagery immediately after the event, FirstLook was able to collect and disseminate imagery showing the devastation along the New Jersey coast as soon as the skies cleared on October 31, 2012.

Hurricane Sandy Collection Coverage (Figure 1) 

To further enhance our insight provided to end users, FirstLook now has the additional capability of delivering annotated information derived from our imagery. By leveraging the power of crowdsourcing and machine learning, FirstLook is able to extract key features from the imagery, such as the worst-hit disaster areas, event locations, important landmarks, and other points of interest. FirstLook then converts this imagery into enhanced insight that can be disseminated and acted more rapidly than ever before.
As a second example, on the afternoon of May 20, 2013, an EF5 tornado swept through Moore, Oklahoma, inflicting significant damage. DigitalGlobe activated FirstLook and directed our satellites to collect imagery over Moore, even though airspace above the region was closed. As the world watched the aftermath of the disaster,  on May 22, DigitalGlobe satellites acquired and delivered cloud-free images to responding organizations and recovery teams. The FirstLook service continued to supply content throughout the duration of the response, delivering more than 13,000square kilometersof time-critical imagery during the first week of the event.

Moore, OK Collection Coverage – May 22-30, 3013 (Figure 2) 

In addition, further assessment of the extent of the tornado damage was made possible by analysis from DigitalGlobe’s Tomnod Crowdsourcing System (TCS). Hundreds of volunteers from all over the world viewed the imagery and identified destroyed buildings, downed trees and damaged roofs to help those affected by the storm. Each point of human analysis was fed into DigitalGlobe’s CrowdRank algorithm to identify areas of crowd consensus and ensure statistical reliability. Just hours after downlink, the imagery was completely analyzed and a comprehensive damage map was made available to first responders and people on the ground (Figure 2).

With unparalleled global coverage, simple delivery of high-resolution satellite data and immediate access to a network of human analysts, FirstLook enables rapid transformation of imagery into information and delivers insight into the hands of those who need it. Ultimately, DigitalGlobe’s team of analysts leverage FirstLook to respond to crisis events with speed and accuracy, and oftentimes are the only people that can supply actionable information helping our end users save time, resources and lives.

The FirstLook team will host a FirstLook: Be the First to Know webinar on Thursday, September 26 at 10 AM and 6 PM MDT.  Visit our Upcoming Webinars page on to register.  We encourage you to visit the FirstLook information page or contact us for more information to learn about DigitalGlobe’s vision to by 2020, be the indispensable source of information about our changing planet.

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