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U.S. Spy Satellites Aid Hurricane Katrina Recovery

August 31, 2005

WASHINGTON — U.S. Spy satellites have been called into service to help federal emergency officials cope with the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, officials said on Wednesday.

The little-known National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which analyzes satellite images for the espionage community and combat troops, has provided scores of images of hard-hit areas, including New Orleans, before and after the storm struck.

The agency said one of its main aims is to survey damage to regional transportation for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which can then use the data to organize relief efforts. FEMA officials could not be reached for comment.

“NGA can determine the overall damage to a transportation network infrastructure — what bridges are out, what roads are flooded — which is critical for FEMA getting relief supplies into the disaster area,” said NGA spokesman Stephen Honda.

The Pentagon agency, previously known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, joined the hurricane effort on Friday when it gave FEMA 100 graphic images showing the location of hospitals, police stations, highways, and schools in the storm’s path along the Gulf coast.

After the storm, the agency gave FEMA its first cloud-free satellite image of downtown New Orleans. The image was snapped by a commercial satellite.

NGA, which once concentrated wholly on overseas targets, has become more involved in domestic security and relief efforts since the September 11, 2001, attacks on Washington and New York.

NGA analysis has aided security efforts at large public events including Super Bowl and the 2004 presidential conventions. Its satellite imagery has also provided assistance to Asian tsunami relief efforts and in fighting forest fires.




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