Last week, Hurricane Matthew hit several islands in the Caribbean, taking its toll on several states in the U.S. as well. While South Dakota is thousands of miles away from the affected areas, a government agency in the state plays a very important role in responding to these types of disasters.
When a natural disaster such as a hurricane hits, first responders have to know where to focus their efforts, and they have to know fast. That's where the International Charter comes in, an agreement between 15 space agencies across the globe.
Physical Scientist and EROS Disaster Response Coordinator Brenda Jones said, "We collect imagery from all over the world and make it available for people responding to disasters."
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is one of those agencies. Once an agency activates the charter, the people at EROS will find out what kind of information them. They collect imagery from up to 40 or 50 satellites, archive it and distribute it to the agency in need.
Jones said, "The activation itself can happen within a few minutes. They start tasking satellites within three hours and if the satellite's in the right place or we have good archive data within an hour or two after that, they can start receiving imagery."
Jones can activate the International Charter. On Oct. 6, she received a call from FEMA to do so for the United States. Since Oct. 4, when Hurricane Matthew first made landfall, the Charter has been activated seven times; in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Bahamas and the U.S.
"We've collected a lot of imagery. So far they've done flood extent maps so that they can determine the areas that have been flooded to assist with search and rescue and that's where they'll concentrate damage assessments also," said Jones.
This map is of Haiti. All that red is of damaged structures caused by Hurricane Matthew.
Once a charter is activated, the agencies provide the information to other countries for up to ten days for free. Jones says it would normally cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this type of information; not something a country like Haiti could ever afford.