ImagineGEO talks to… Dr. Tobias Schneiderhan, Head of DLR ZKI

Tobias Schneiderhan
Even being one of the youngest members of the Charter, our contribution is very often requested due to the quality of the data combined with the high reactivity and very short delivery times.

1. Give a short overview about the ZKI and describe your role.

The Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information (ZKI) is a platform to develop, test and run applications and services evolved in research projects like GITEWS, Respond or SAFER. Embedded in the German Aerospace Center (DLR) infrastructure, with its mission control and ground segment, ZKI is in the position to implement processes that are quick, highly reliable and robust. The contribution to the International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’ is a good example for such a service. In this case we cooperate closely with Airbus Defence and Space to use the TerraSAR-X satellite for the Charter’s purposes. Referring to my role specifically, as Head of ZKI, I have a remit to lead and manage all operational aspects.

2. Could you describe the workflow if the Charter “Space and Major Disasters” has been activated?

 If an authorised user activates the Charter his request is formally checked before the Emergency On-Call Officer (ECO) instigates the required missions within a three hour window. The Charter has defined specific tasking “scenarios” like flood, earthquake or tsunami along with the most suitable Charter missions and sensors for a certain disaster type. These guidelines help the ECO to quickly choose the most appropriate satellites and send the request form to the respective Space Agency. This is the moment when, for example, during a flood situation a request form reaches DLR to provide radar data by tasking TerraSAR-X. Then our ZKI colleagues liaise with Airbus Defence and Space when ordering new acquisitions through TerraSAR-X to avoid potential conflicts and thus make optimal use of the satellite resources. It’s always good to know each other. That makes life easier. Once the data is successfully acquired it is downlinked, processed and delivered to the value-adder as soon as possible.

ZKI's control room

3. How often did you use imagery taken by TerraSAR-X during 2015? And for what kind of disasters?

In 2015 we provided TerraSAR-X data in 27 Charter activations so far (you can see the complete list of activations here). We will see what happens in the rest of the year but in general, this matches roughly previous years where we covered 37 activations with TerraSAR-X data in 2014 and 33 activations in 2013. Radar data is often requested for floods, storms and volcanic eruptions due to its ability to penetrate clouds. With radar, regardless of cloud coverage you get an image of the Earth’s surface, which is needed to perform the analyses and to extract the crisis information. In 2015 we had 14 flood situations, 4 volcanic eruptions and also 4 storms where TerraSAR-X data was used.

4. What do you think about the contribution of TerraSAR-X in monitoring natural disasters or major accidents?

Each sensor has its strengths, so does TerraSAR-X. Being sensitive to surface roughness and able to penetrate clouds it is the ideal tool to observe floods that have a long persistence and thus need to be monitored over a certain time period. Crisis situations evolve and change over time and need to be imaged and subsequently analysed to better coordinate the relief work and be prepared for upcoming situations. Even being one of the youngest members of the Charter, our contribution is very often requested due to the quality of the data combined with the high reactivity and very short delivery times.

5. Which recent event covered by the Charter touched you most?

That’s a difficult question. Each disaster has its specific characteristics. The Charter, as its name says, is activated for major disasters, which means that each activation has a large impact on the affected country and its people. Unfortunately, natural disasters often hit poor countries that are less prepared to cope with such incidents. But taking two out of the 27, I would say that the floods in Vietnam and Myanmar on the one side, and the earthquake in Nepal on the other touched me most. Not only the number of lives that were lost but also the long suffering afterwards due to shortages of food. That’s why we try to support the relief organisations and their field teams with crisis information derived from TerraSAR-X data. Hoping, that our remote help makes the relief actions more effective and helps ease the pain of the affected people.

Interview : Tobias Schneiderhan, DLR ZKI