Over 1.5 million children and their families are currently being supported in over 130 countries worldwide by the humanitarian aid organisation SOS Children’s Villages International. So that this organisation can offer more effective support also in areas affected by natural disasters like floods, earthquakes and forest fires, the Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information (ZKI) of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen is helping SOS Children’s Villages International to develop concepts for emergency and disaster response. Early warning is to be made possible with the help of innovative technical solutions from the realm of earth observation. ZKI also offers emergency mapping of the affected facilities and assists this NGO to improve its communication processes and workflows. The insurance company Allianz SE supports the project as part of its global partnership with SOS Children’s Villages International and also makes its expertise available to optimise the system.
Early warning system for forest fires and floods
"In contrast to public authorities and civil defence organisations like Germany's disaster aid body Technisches Hilfswerk (THW), humanitarian aid groups often have only limited access to new technologies", explains Dr. Konstanze Lechner, project leader at DLR’s German Remote Sensing Data Center. "However, the kind of earth observation data that ZKI makes available can be an important decision-making resource in disaster situations. Many NGOs are active in crisis regions and locations regularly affected by natural disasters and depend on this emergency information to improve their management of disasters. For that reason ZKI helps SOS Children’s Villages International to augment their emergency and disaster control planning with relevant information obtained from satellites." During a six-month project phase running from October 2016 to March 2017 ZKI staff will be developing a satellite supported early warning system for forest fires and floods on behalf of SOS Children’s Villages International. They will make use of data from European weather satellites for fire detection and data from the European Copernicus satellites to detect flooding. West Africa, where SOS Children’s Villages International operates over 297 facilities and projects, was selected as the pilot region for this project phase.
Emergency mapping as neighbourhood assistance
ZKI has many years of experience in satellite-based emergency mapping. In acute situations, for their facilities worldwide SOS Children’s Villages International can call on ZKI for a satellite analysis. The focus is not only on the affected village, but also on the nearby population. "In cases of earthquakes or storms, SOS Children’s Villages usually have only minor damage, since they are very sturdily built. So for us it is all the more important to know how the situation is developing in the vicinity, in places where we look after families or operate other social projects”, explains Andreas Papp, International Director Emergency Response, of SOS Children’s Villages International. "After major natural disasters our buildings are usually the only ones left standing, so people come to us. We need up-to-date maps showing the immediate situation, both to provide effective assistance and to support other rescue teams. If we have them, we can better plan and coordinate the relief aid required for the children in the region.”
New technologies for humanitarian activities
Particularly with natural disasters much of the infrastructure often ends up damaged or even destroyed, such as telecommunication networks or the power supply. If staff at the local SOS sites are to receive the necessary information, both for themselves and to share with external colleagues, alternative communication channels have to be employed. For example, new technologies can be drawn on thanks to the stable and failsafe energy supplies of the SOS Children’s Villages. DLR can also provide technical support for these kinds of services.
The current project will run for six months, during which early disaster warning and emergency mapping will be integrated into the new emergency management system of SOS Children’s Villages International. Together with other service providers, everything needed to optimally visualise and process the information will be brought together. "In March 2017 when the project ends ZKI will continue as professional consultant to SOS Children’s Villages International and be available to assist with additional technical development related to disaster management", ends Dr. Lechner.