Book in Focus
A Holistic Case-Study Approach to Applying Satellite Remote Sensing to Disaster Management"/>

03rd March 2022

Book in Focus
A Holistic Case-Study Approach to Applying Satellite Remote Sensing to Disaster Management

Edited by Kazuka Kaku

Satellite remote sensing is one of the primary support tools for disaster management. However, it is not easy for people involved in this field, such as emergency responders, policy makers, administrative officials, researchers, and students, to actually use it. As a result, they have been actively seeking good practices and lessons learned that can be used as a practical reference-point for their work. This book provides holistic case studies on applying satellite remote sensing to disaster management from various organizations, institutes, or universities across a range of regions.

Remote sensing is a technology for remotely studying the properties of objects using electromagnetic radiation, without touching the objects directly. Satellite remote sensing covers wide-ranging areas, operates continually during all hours and in all types of weather, and is used to survey Earth’s surface and atmosphere to study global environmental problems, monitor disasters, explore resources, and so on. A satellite remote sensing system consists of five components, as shown in Fig. 1-1: sources of radiation (the Sun, the Earth, and an artificial radiation source), interaction with the atmosphere, interaction with the Earth’s surface, a space segment (sensors and satellites), and a ground segment. Note that both human factors (such as system and users working in disaster management and response) in the ground segment and technical factors are important when applying satellite remote sensing to disaster management. The main theme of this book (the application of satellite remote sensing to disaster management) refers to the employment of satellite-based disaster information and data by users working for disaster management, including rescue, relief, and evacuation, not just disclosing them on the Internet.

Fig. 1-1. Satellite remote sensing system with five components: sources of radiation, interaction with the atmosphere, interaction with the Earth’s surface, a space segment, and a ground segment (Curran, 1985; with modifications).

From a methodological point of view, in such applied science research areas as applying satellite remote sensing to disaster management, where practical implications are often required for their research results, case studies are useful. Furthermore, each individual case study of a particular complex social event is considered to be an entity that constitutes one “whole,” allowing a holistic approach to the event (Ishizaka, 2005). In the case of Sentinel Asia (SA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), as shown in Fig. 2-2, case studies are conducted to demonstrate the employment of satellite-based disaster information and data and examine how satellite remote sensing can support disaster management in collaboration with users with a regional background, such as a disaster type, a disaster management system, and an organizational structure of disaster management, in different countries. Based on case studies, discussion and research are conducted from the holistic viewpoint of the progression level of case studies, progress of technology, user requirements, enhancement of support systems, and human factors.

Fig. 2-2. A holistic case-study approach in Sentinel Asia and JAXA.

Chapter 11 provides requirements for applying satellite remote sensing to disaster management derived from a holistic viewpoint based on case studies. Through case studies from SA and JAXA, particularly the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, space-based response has been empirically proven to effectively support relief efforts during mass catastrophes. Furthermore, based on these case studies, requirements for applying satellite remote sensing to disaster management can be derived from the holistic viewpoint, including human factors, as illustrated in Fig. 11-1:

Fig. 11-1. Conceptual illustration of applying satellite remote sensing to disaster management.


The opinion survey shows that numerous users request the establishment of a framework to supply satellite images free of charge and quickly in an emergency. A framework including data providers (space agencies), data analysts (universities and research institutes, among others), and users (disaster management organizations) is necessary. In the case of SA, it was established as a voluntary and best-effort-based initiative under the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF), as shown in Fig. 11-2.

Fig. 11-2. Framework of Sentinel Asia.


Users request to cover the entire disaster management cycle (prevention/mitigation/preparedness, response, and recovery). In the case of SA and JAXA, capacity building, hazard mapping, risk mapping, and an early warning system have been implemented for prevention/mitigation/ preparedness support. It should be noted that the capacity building and early warning system align with the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR), 2015–2030. Disaster response support (that is, observing the situation immediately after an extensive disaster using Earth-observation satellites to support disaster relief activity) is the most suitable field for satellite remote sensing and is anticipated by users because satellite observation covers wide-ranging areas and operates continually, during all hours and in all types of weather. As for recovery support, products produced by emergency observation can be utilized in the recovery phase as well, and to prepare for recurring disasters.

Case studies and human networking through collaboration with users (including end-users) are inevitable activities. It is also important to implement the theme of activities that meet the needs of users.

Users and human factors

Users are neither existing nor given; they must be developed and maintained as a part of project activities, by sustained efforts towards human resource development and human network development, starting with awareness, education, training, and so on. In collaboration with users, a face-to-face human network is an important underlying element. It is also important to collaborate with the appropriate organization, section, or person in each country according to the theme; however, this is not easy, as it depends on the organizational structure of disaster management in each country. After all, collaboration is done by people; in this sense, the most important thing is the human network.

Data providers (space agencies) and data analysts (universities and research institutes, among others)

Data providers and analysts have requested continual efforts to realize user requirements.

The opinion survey shows requests concerning the timing of observation and providing data, including one hour after a disaster to assess the extent of the destruction, within two to three days to detect landslides, and one week later to estimate the quantity of debris. The goal is not just the delivery of satellite Earth observation data, but rather to provide more specific “services” quickly on a 24-hour, 365 day-a-year basis. Data users are also deeply concerned about confirming the availability of roads and key facilities immediately after a mass calamity to ensure routes for evacuation, rescue, and support (availability monitoring), in addition to understanding the overall extent of the damage (overall monitoring). For overall monitoring, wide-ranging optical/SAR images are used, while, for availability monitoring, very high-resolution optical images are necessary. Specifically, resolution of less than 1 m is required. Numerous interviewees (users) said they would find many types of information useful in order to assess damage after a mass disaster and would appreciate when satellite images and aerial photos are supplied quickly at no cost. In the future, data providers should continue to improve emergency observation services to meet user needs, such as data type, response time, value adding, and reliability and validation of value-added products.

Sharing/providing systems for disaster information and data

A sharing/providing system for information and data is essential in conducting disaster management support. It should function to share disaster information and data on Web-GIS, and to transmit data to authorized persons. It also has a secure-access control function to limit users from viewing and downloading data according to the data policies of the data providers. Communication satellites and positioning satellites are useful for satellite data transmission and evacuation warning message delivery, among other purposes.

International collaboration

International collaboration is essential for disaster management support, particularly in the case of catastrophic disasters. As many satellites as possible are expected to support disaster management, particularly response, to maximize results based on: (1) The frequency of observation; (2) Rapid response, that is, to provide satellite-based disaster information to users (disaster responders) as quickly as possible; (3) Wide-area coverage; (4) Types of satellite data with respect to high-resolution or wide-ranging surveillance, as well as SA (X-, C-, or L-band) or optical sensors; and (5) The uncertainty of obtaining excellent imagery depending on weather conditions. Some international space-based initiatives are contributing to the field of disaster management. Such initiatives include SA, Copernicus, the International Charter, the International Working Group on Satellite-based Emergency Mapping (IWG-SEM), the Working Group on Disasters of CEOS, the UN-SPIDER, and the Data Access for Risk Management (GEO-DARMA) of GEO.

Feedback from users

Feedback from users for each disaster event is valuable to data providers and data analysts, whether it goes well or not. If unsuccessful, user feedback contains lessons learned for the improvement of activities; if successful, it is a measure of, and evidence for, the results of data providers and data analysts. However, there are difficulties in collecting feedback from users. One solution is site surveys after disaster response support visiting users and end-users who worked in disaster response to confirm in detail how satellite-based disaster data and information were employed and to discuss issues related to the support provided.

The result of this holistic study could be extended to other regions, with reference to the above-described seven requirements, considering regional background such as disaster type, disaster management systems, and organizational structure of disaster management, in different countries. For example, in Pakistan, practical solutions for the implementation of space technology to help reduce the risks of disasters were proposed by Rauf et al. in 2020 ( This book can be expected to contribute to the active application of a holistic case-study approach to both practical operations and research.

Kazuya Kaku received a Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics and Physics from Kyoto University, Japan, in 1978 and a PhD from the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology of Hokkaido University, Japan, in 2010. He previously worked with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Sentinel Asia project to support disaster management in the Asia-Pacific region by applying satellite remote sensing and Web-GIS technologies. He is currently a Visiting Researcher at the Asian Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC), Japan.

For more information, see:

A Holistic Case-Study Approach to Applying Satellite Remote Sensing to Disaster Management is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter code PROMO25 at checkout to redeem.

Read Extract