I am Hélène de Boissezon, I work with CNES, the French space agency. I have a degree in agronomy but in my professional life, I get to work in many different fields.
At CNES, my mission is to promote the widespread use of space techniques, like Earth observation, satellite telecommunications and geolocalisation, in civil society and the economic sector.
Just after Hurricane Matthew, the Haitian Civil Protection Agency asked for the intervention of Earth observation satellite imagery to help rescue teams. The French space agency CNES provided a large number of Pleiade images, very precise imagery with a pixel size of 70 by 70 cm which is highly suitable for mapping urban areas or coastline.
The International Charter: Space and Major Disaster is an international agreement that has existed between space agencies for more than 20 years.
At present, 17 space agencies are part of the agreement which was created by CNES and ESA. Civil protection agencies and the United Nations can trigger the charter in the event of major disasters. The space agencies then program their Earth observation satellite systems in emergency mode to provide images of areas impacted by the disaster to help rescue teams. This service is available 24/7 at any moment, day and night, everywhere around the world. CNES provides very high resolution satellite images like Pleiade, while ESA provides Copernicus Sentinel satellite images. Both are used for very distinct uses.
As well as the international charter, there is an emerging initiative: RO – the Recovery Observatory – whose role it is to complement charter work by providing satellite images after disasters. During the days and weeks after a major disaster in a country, we have to monitor what is going on during the early recovery phases and help provide information for national recovery plans set up by international stakeholders. When the international disaster charter was triggered by the Haitian Civil Protection Agency, the first beneficiaries were the Civil Protection Agency in Haiti, who received two useful maps of the two cities of Jeremie and Les Cayes and maps of the coastal areas that were completely destroyed by very strong winds. The first Recovery Observatory pilot was triggered after Hurricane Matthew, providing imagery for other beneficiaries in Haiti such as maps of the agricultural areas that had been destroyed by Hurricane Matthew. We also provided maps of the evolution of city areas for urban planning and reconstruction, maps of the Parc Makaya, a very important biosphere reserve completely destroyed by the hurricane, as well as maps of landslides used by the Bureau of Mines and Energy.
The International Charter: Space and Major Disasters is available for all countries worldwide. Through such universal access, any country with a national civil protection agency, which has the capacity to work in English, receive digital files and work remotely, can access the charter like Haiti did two years ago.
So it really is a worldwide service.
The Recovery Observatory is now in its Demonstrator phase. So after the pilot in Haiti over three years, we are now working on five Recovery Observatory Demonstrators worldwide that will be activated according to the needs of the World Bank, United Nations or European Union. Of course, CNES and other space agencies will still provide space images to create useful information maps for post-disaster analysis and the recovery effort.
The message I would like to give young visitors to the Space for Our Planet exhibition, is that we only have one planet Earth, one planet to live in and that planet is truly beautiful and must be protected.
I know younger generations are very aware of this and, from space images, we can see that Earth is beautiful. Space images are really amazing; in the 30 years that I have been working on them, I have been very moved by their beauty. Not only beautiful, they are a unique tool to be able to monitor, protect and prepare our planet’s future for your generation. And thanks to these space techniques, I think we have very useful tools for your generation to take care of our unique planet.
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