12 August 2011, Geneva, Switzerland – UNOSAT announced today the completion of one essential step forward in its plan to secure long-term efficient and rapid access to satellite imagery to derive accurate and timely information in support of humanitarian relief and human security. The acquisition of DigitalGlobe’s FirstLook Service by UNOSAT will reduce substantially the time it takes to expert analysis to produce accurate information in rush mode and marks another step forward not only for UNOSAT but for the entire UN community of users.

When UNOSAT started operations in 2001 access to appropriate satellite imagery was far too slow, difficult and uncertain compared to today. Yet nowadays quick and easy access to accurate, up-to-date satellite scenes is still far from being optimal especially taking into account the long UN procurement procedures. UNOSAT data-in-hand is an initiative combining commercial and partner sources to consolidate and concentrate access to valuable data for all types of emergency response and human security monitoring developed at UNOSAT.

DigitalGlobe's FirstLook is an online subscription service for emergency management that provides fast web-based access to pre- and post-event imagery of crisis areas in the world. High-resolution satellite imagery provides the best available basis to generate through analysis essential information required for emergency planning, risk assessment, monitoring, emergency response, damage assessment, and recovery. The service just purchased by UNOSAT after an initial trial between 2010 and 2011 is operational since 12 August 2011. It is supported at DigitalGlobe by a team that continuously monitors world situations using sources such as GDACS, the Global Disaster and Coordination System, an open channel of liaison with UNOSAT operations management in Geneva, and information from the International Space Charter. Once an event has been identified, DigitalGlobe establishes high priority collection sites over the event. Post-event imagery of affected areas are acquired as soon as access allows, typically within 24 hours to 48 hours. UNOSAT experts can then view and download the imagery straight from their desktops in Geneva.

Francesco Pisano says: “We are continuing to equip the Programme with what it takes to do this job effectively and professionally. But this is done also to bring a distinct advantage to the entire UN family. After the partnership with Google to share crowd generated data with UNOSAT and the rest of the UN, this is a second main achievement by UNOSAT which will change the way we do things and the overall technology level of the UN. I hope this can be of help to the entire UN”. UNOSAT in fact has added to the purchase order the funds necessary to endow 3 other UN bodies with a free license each. “Normally this would take months and months of discussions in working groups and committees to then find out that there are insufficient funds to implement decisions. At UNITAR we value our responsiveness and action once we determine the best way forward. We are proud of this but we are and remain committed to sharing the benefits, it is part of the UNOSAT concept”.

Image: very-high resolution imagery is an essential tool for analysis today. UNOSAT is trying to help in concrete terms to make access easier for the UN (image from WorldView satellite, courtesy of Digitalglobe)