Thursday, November 1, 2012

Endangered Weather Satellites

Prior to Hurricane Sandy coming onshore, the New York Times offered an article highlighting the importance of weather satellites. Specifically considered were the many ways data from these platforms are used to take precautionary measures that limit damage, such as evacuating individuals from low lying areas, structurally securing businesses and residences, and moving big items like ships and construction equipment out of harm's way. Unfortunately, without any change in funding or plans, the United States "eyes-in-the-sky" for weather may go blind for a period of time around 2017.  For more, see the article below:

U.S. Satellite Plans Falter, Imperiling Data on Storms (New York Times, October 26, 2012)

Comment: Perhaps the single biggest hurdle when it comes to the introduction of geospatial technologies in the Emergency Services Sector (ESS), is the ability to quantify the extent of the return on investment. It's a problem faced by virtually any program that has a safety slant to it. Leadership at the top has to be able to see the vision and understand the outcome of those actions without having the statistics at the outset to defend a move to spend money. An example of that situation is what happened in the Naval Aviation community post WWII. With nothing more than a sense that situation could be improved, the leadership of the Naval Aviation community worked to establish a safety program to oversee standards and training in the community.  The results were remarkable - Naval aviation went from crashing THOUSANDS of aircraft per year - to low two digits. With that track record in place, the validity of the program became quantifiable, and the financial value understood.  As a result, today Aviation Safety is a priority program in the Naval Aviation community

The point of the story above?  What is so troubling about the potential loss of the weather view-from-above is that the value has already been clearly defined. Literally, billions of dollars are saved during disaster events like Sandy by having advanced warning and the ability to effectively track these types of storms. Yet, the nation faces this circumstance and the outcry is muted. Consequently, it would seem this capability is not seen as a priority program.

On reflection, Emergency Managers, you might want to think about giving your weather satellite a hug before it's too late.

Lead picture: NOAA    

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