Virginia Task Force 1 and Matt Moniz, a 17-year-old mountaineer who was on Mount Everest during the April 25, 2015, Nepal earthquake, visited the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) headquarters in June to stress the importance of timely NGA imagery and mapping products to their response efforts.
Chris Schaff and John Morrison of VA-TF1, the urban search-and-rescue team sponsored by the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, deployed to Nepal after the earthquake to provide support, including the rescue of two people from collapsed buildings.
“We are the end user of the disaster atlases NGA creates,” says Morrison. “In country, it’s hard to download large volumes of imagery.”
For that reason, reach-back support and being able to access smaller, more-digestible pieces of data were essential to the mission, he said.
Timing always is an issue in these events, and most of the needed mapping and imagery comes out after the event, according to Schaff, the program manager for VA-TF1.
“We are on a very short timeline for imagery and mapping,” he notes.
But technology helped them overcome some of the challenges slow data presents. The team used Garmin GPS and Android tablets loaded with Google Earth to help navigate the areas. They also accessed NGA’s public Nepal earthquake site.
“Having the public Web site with the map/area disaster map was tremendously helpful,” notes Schaff. “We will push that out to the rest of the disaster community. If you need updated imagery, this is the place to go.”
In a country such as Nepal, people aren’t familiar with the concept of mapping, making imagery even more essential to relief efforts. Without it, VA-TF1 couldn’t get where they need to provide aid to the most-affected regions.
Schaff and Morrison were joined on a panel by Matt Moniz, Moniz’s father Mike Moniz, and Karen Diener, president and CEO of KD Geospatial Solutions. Matt Moniz was at the Everest Base Camp when the earthquake triggered a massive avalanche, survived with no injuries and stayed in country to help with the recovery efforts.
Panelists spoke with members of the Integrated Work Group—Readiness, Response and Recovery, and select others who supported the response efforts, in a preliminary session before opening the session to a larger NGA-wide audience. The group discussed their experiences in Nepal, and how GEOINT helped them locate areas that needed the most aid as well as overcome some of the challenges they encountered trying to navigate within the country.
Even more essential to the members of VA-TF1 was analysis of the imagery, which gave them the familiarity of the area they needed.
“Knowing that this was a school, or that was a hospital, is so important,” notes Schaff. “We have such a limited amount of time, that this kind of data helps us target the big spots first, so we can do the most good for the most people.”
By Rachael Groseclose, NGA Analysis Directorate; www.nga.mil.