Eagle Vision provided insight before, after Sandy

  • Published
  • By Patty Welsh
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
Days before Hurricane Sandy hit, personnel from the Eagle Vision program office here were working on imagery collection.

"Often the emergency responders like to have views of the areas hit by a natural disaster both before and after the event," said Capt. Chris Berardi, program manager. "The team took the initiative to plan ahead."

Eagle Vision is a system that allows for the collection, processing and distribution of commercial satellite imagery in a relatively short timeframe. The team began imagery collection planning of the anticipated areas on Oct. 25 and continued to collect until Nov. 19. For Hurricane Sandy support, many images were provided within 24 hours.

According to program officials, the first organizations to receive the imagery were the United States Geological Survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, USNORTHCOM and AFNORTH.

"The organizations primarily use the images for damage assessment, allowing local leaders a close-up look at wide swaths, especially areas that might be difficult to get to," said Berardi. "However, they can also be used for relief efforts, such as where to direct assets."

In this instance, the team used SPOT 4/5, a French satellite constellation; Radarsat-2, a Canadian satellite constellation; and Rapideye, a German satellite constellation, for the imagery collection. The areas covered included Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

"As everyone was getting pounded by rain and wind, for West Virginia, there was concern about the amount of snow they were getting and the possibility of flooding due to snow melt," said Jack Wurts, Eagle Vision test engineer.

The team at Hanscom participated in USGS daily emergency response coordination phone conversations to ensure they were collecting what the multitude of first responders needed and to minimize any duplication with other organizations.

"We were able to tell them what we were currently imaging and we were also able to see where there were voids that we could fill in," said Wurts.

Using the existing system, the team was able to provide images that covered approximately 232,898 square miles. And by using the different satellites, they were also able to collect different types and resolution of images.

For instance, the French satellite captured high resolution electro optical imagery. However, the ability to collect this type of imagery is limited during periods of dense cloud cover, such as when the storm was directly over certain areas. But the Canadian satellite was able to use synthetic aperture radar to see through the cloud cover and capture images for assessment regardless of weather conditions. The German satellite allowed for the imaging of one target more than once per day.

That the work is done with no cost to the outside agencies was another area Berardi emphasized.

"All they need to do is get on the phone or utilize our web-enabled imagery request platform and let us know what they need," he said.

Existing contracts the program office has in place with NGA allow for Air Force cost savings, because the contract allows the program office to access as many images as they need for a fixed yearly fee.

"If we had to pay a specific cost per image, it would be extraordinary," he said. "By having this all-you-can-eat type contract, we can access what we need, when we need it. This means we never have to say no to the warfighter or first responders."

The program is also going through the largest upgrade in its history. Within a $52 million upgrade now on contract, new satellite constellations are being added and antenna upgrades are being done at each site, along with the shelters to house the equipment.

"As satellites are decommissioned, we need to ensure we are able to still access the needed imagery and we also need to refresh antiquated systems," said Berardi. "We can't fall behind."

He said the majority of the work to update the legacy systems was funded by the National Guard.

"That's a testament to the value of the system," he said. "It speaks to the ability of the system to satisfy the needs of our customers' stateside mission."

The upgrades will be done as a phased roll-out and work is anticipated to be done between 2013 and 2014.

"We'll be able to provide imagery that is 10 times better than the current imagery," said Berardi. "It's like night and day."