Information, Not Just Imagery

DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center

Fig. 1

Image shows the Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag ship at sea on Dec. 8, 2011, and the corresponding wider zoomed version that shows the clouds over the ocean. This shows the power of the analysts who were able to pick the Varyag ship out of the clouds.

Fig. 2

Images shows the Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag ship at sea on Dec. 8, 2011, and the corresponding wider zoomed version that shows the clouds over the ocean. This shows the power of the analysts who were able to pick the Varyag ship out of the clouds.

Fig. 3

This image of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy was taken Jan. 19, 2012.

Fig. 4

The port of Sendai, Japan image shows rebuilding after the tsunami. It was taken Feb. 11, 2012.

Fig. 5

Fukushima image was taken Feb. 2, 2012, showing the rebuilding occurring in that area of Japan.

Fig. 6

Image from Homs, Syria show smoke and craters (taken Feb. 25, 2012), and various areas of Homs during a pipeline fire (Feb. 15, 2012).

Fig. 7

Image from Homs, Syria show smoke and craters (taken Feb. 25, 2012), and various areas of Homs during a pipeline fire (Feb. 15, 2012).

Director, Analysis Center
Vice President, Analysis Center
Longmont, Colo.

In a crisis, every second counts. Lives can be lost if decision makers cannot react to a situation fast enough. Up-to-date information is the most important factor in preventing loss of life. Whether the disaster is natural or man-made, geospatial intelligence can play a critical role in the effective management of on-the-ground personnel. To fill the spatial and logistical voids often associated with disasters, DigitalGlobe launched the Analysis Center one year ago.

Q. What inspired DigitalGlobe to form the Analysis Center?

A. Based on the feedback from our longstanding customers, we realized many wanted more than just images – they wanted answers. Our customers wanted to know what they could do with the imagery and what valuable information it could provide. DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center provided the answers to their questions. We looked directly inside DigitalGlobe to find the right people to help end users and customers and formed a team of research analysts, geospatial experts and image analysis experts. The selected experts had significant domain experience in the industries we serve and a deep understanding of DigitalGlobe’s systems from collection to production to imagery exploitation and analysis.

Q. How does the Analysis Center assist disaster relief?

A. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in the hands of an expert analyst, who can provide context and insight, it can be worth vastly more. Many assume that DigitalGlobe and other satellite providers have automated tools to search through the massive number of images taken each day by satellites circling the Earth. But that’s not the case. The search still comes down to the people – the analysts (who are enabled by software and GIS tools) sifting through images daily to identify what’s most important. With direct access to DigitalGlobe’s satellite constellation and with the ability to exploit the growing global data in our ImageLibrary, the Analysis Center experts help leaders, decision makers, investors, media and the general public to see the full picture.

DigitalGlobe’s rapid delivery and analysis of high-resolution imagery has supported first responders in evacuation planning, disaster response and recovery, and restoration efforts worldwide. Our near real-time monitoring capabilities help governments, rescue workers, and international decision makers better understand and manage natural disasters and crucial political situations. The Analysis Center helps our customers quickly respond to disasters by assessing the damage and deciding where rescue teams should be sent.

Q. How has the Analysis Center progressed over the past year?

A. The Analysis Center was officially opened in January 2011. Over the past year, our analysts have discovered unique images of the Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag at sea (see Figure 1-2), the Costa Concordia shortly after the Italian cruise ship ran aground (see Figure 3), the Arab Spring protests in Egypt and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. For every crisis situation and new discovery, DigitalGlobe’s analysts have dedicated long hours, and even nights, to examining the magnitude, severity and scope of each event. Before the Analysis Center was officially developed, the analysis was being done more informally across multiple departments. Our experienced analysts now have a central hub and dedicated resource base to assess critical situations strategically.

Here at DigitalGlobe, we know firsthand the incredible impact that satellite images have in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In many instances, such as the tragedy in Japan or the recent uprising in Syria, satellite images can often be the only way to see and understand immediately the full scope of what’s happening on the ground.

Our view here is – use science, use the observations we can get to better prepare America to take actions to prepare for something we can’t avoid.

– John L. ‘Jack’ Hayes, Ph.D., Assistant Administrator, Weather Services and Director, National Weather Service, NOAA

Q. In addition to DigitalGlobe’s constellation of satellites, what other resources do your analysts have to discover vital images?

A. DigitalGlobe has committed to providing the most current information available by recently launching an analytic offering – FirstWatch.

While the foundation of our offerings is derived from our core assets – our satellites – we often begin the analytic process by searching, mining and integrating open source data. Through careful and skilled research, we are able to focus our time and analysis on the areas that are most important. With the explosion of unclassified, open source content and social media, we are finding that our imagery data combined with other data enables us to provide our customers with a more complete understanding of events and issues around the world.

In the event of a disaster, up-to-date images are matched with archived images from the DigitalGlobe ImageLibrary, which is the largest in the world and dates back to 2002. Our analysts compare the current imagery with previous historical imagery, using professional imagery exploitation and GIS software tools. These comparisons allow analysts quickly to understand the extent and specifics of damage on the ground. This analysis is then published into a comprehensive DigitalGlobe FirstWatch report within hours after the event occurs.

The wide range of information included in a FirstWatch report is critical in assessing the scope and magnitude of an event. A FirstWatch report is most valuable for providing vital details that are visible only from a satellite view. The human element in the FirstWatch service is what sets it apart, as DigitalGlobe analysts often are able to identify parts of pictures that untrained recipients of the imagery can’t locate. Details included in a report can include evidence of structural damage, infrastructure failures, changes to topography, flood water depth, and other potentially life-threatening elements. With the necessary insight into the situation, decision makers are freed up to begin formulating the most effective response plan.

Q. What led to the development of DigitalGlobe’s new analytical offering, FirstWatch?

A. The development of our FirstWatch offering stemmed from customers’ requests and needs. Customers in crisis situations needed to know how to get to the affected area to help save lives and start rebuilding. Imagery is a starting point, but what our customers really needed were the answers, which FirstWatch helps provide. We also found that many new non-traditional customers lacked their own in-house imagery analysis capability, and needed to search through the imagery and understand the significance of the crisis. In 2011 alone, DigitalGlobe produced more than 50 FirstWatch reports for events worldwide.

One of the most notable series of FirstWatch reports was that produced following the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in early 2011. During this crisis, DigitalGlobe satellites constantly monitored the area for ten consecutive days and captured the explosions and failures at the nuclear facility, the state of the country’s highways, and the damage at major infrastructure like the airport and sea port at Sendai, Japan. See Figures 4-5on pages 28 and 32. DigitalGlobe’s FirstWatch report allowed users to visualize rapidly the destruction on a street-by-street basis and to enact targeted response and recovery plans for rescue, humanitarian aid and rebuilding.

Q. When sorting through thousands of images, how do your analysts know where to focus their time?

A. With our years of experience, our analysts observe historical trends, sift through volumes of news and open source reports and examine current events to decide which images are the most noteworthy, such as the Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag taking its first test run in the Yellow Sea, images of the Syrian uprising when no western journalists are able to get into the country (see Figures 6-7), and updated imagery to the Japan disaster from Spring 2011.

For example, for the last 10 years, we’ve captured images and followed the progress of Varyag. Last year, we combined our images with open source, publically available unclassified research to anticipate when the sea trials were coming. From our research and due to our agile satellite constellation, we were able to determine the best collection plan to implement to narrow down the search for the carrier. The ultimate image came down to human intuition and diligence to look through the cloudy image to spot the Varyag on its initial sea trial. The human aspect in the Analysis Center is the key to DigitalGlobe’s offering.

DigitalGlobe’s team of analysts applied the same principles to other disasters in Japan, Syria, and other trouble spots. By understanding the magnitude of the events and cross-referencing with what’s already available in the ImageLibrary, our experts ensure we’re collecting the right zones. The open source, publically available analysis and ground photos combined with the equipment to cross-reference with satellite images help the analysts sort through our collection of images.

Q. What other industries can benefit from the Analysis Center?

A. DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center isn’t engaged only in times of crisis. Satellite mapping and imaging play vital roles in preserving important historical sites, conserving natural resources and helping governments in developing countries create food and water sustainability. Our experts can assist several other industries beyond government disaster relief, such as the oil, gas and insurance industries, to determine oil inventory and monitor insured assets.

Just recently, DigitalGlobe delivered high-resolution satellite imagery of significant heritage sites for the Global Heritage Network (, an early warning monitoring system for endangered cultural sites. In addition, we are currently monitoring 16 glaciers for Extreme Ice Survey (, and we have been working with the Jane Goodall Institute ( for several years, providing satellite imagery of areas in Tanzania, Uganda and Congo in order for them to make effective conservation decisions.

Many of the current members in the Analysis Center previously worked on these longstanding projects and are able now to work closely with them to understand what they need, how they need it delivered and what type of information DigitalGlobe can extract from the images. Our experienced analysts have the knowledge to interface with DigitalGlobe’s systems and processes to better serve the customer.

These customers may not be as high-profile as the government, but they share very similar needs. Ultimately, they need analyses of before and after images to build a strategy, and DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center helps fill those needs.

Q. How do you see the Analysis Center developing over the next few years?

A. Analysis is part of DigitalGlobe’s vision for the fourth “era” of the commercial satellite industry. For government customers, the need for rapid and accurate analysis of imagery is becoming as important as the imagery itself.

Another important component of the effective use of imagery is cloud services. This solution of cloud services is especially valuable to government agencies and humanitarian organizations that are responding in a crisis situation. We predict that in the next couple of years, there will be a growing demand for delivery options to store, manage and disseminate data. Our customers across several industries want to use and integrate the full extent of our current and historic imagery content with the power of our cloud services, without having to buy and manage additional data storage services. Real-time information and the knowledge of former trends are essential in developing a unified strategy.

DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center will continue to focus on and to analyze what’s most important – changes that help our customers save lives, resources, and time. We keep a constant eye on the world to help our customers gain an early insight into the business, military, environmental, and political changes that impact people around the world.

Going forward, it is clear that the insight derived from imagery will become more important than just the pixels themselves. The insight provided by a partner in the sky can make an important difference in evacuation planning, disaster response, recovery, and rebuilding in regions worldwide. DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center has the newest tools and the right people, which decision makers need in their rapidly advancing toolboxes to face the challenges of our rapidly changing world.

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