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  4. “The protection of one country can be the protection of your own country,” says Dr. Solidum, a disaster management expert from the Philippines

“The protection of one country can be the protection of your own country,” says Dr. Solidum, a disaster management expert from the Philippines

One of APRSAF initiatives, Sentinel Asia, has been shown to be useful with regard to space assets and problem solving within Asia-Pacific countries. Having established a disaster management support system—a collaborative effort between space agencies and disaster management agencies—in its Step 2 phase, Sentinel Asia is now in the Step 3 phase, which aims to enhance prevention and recovery activities for natural disasters.

APRSAF Secretariat had an opportunity to interview one of the key persons in the Sentinel Asia community, Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr., Director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), at APRSAF-21, December 2014, in Tokyo. At APRSAF-21, he made a presentation entitled “The Sentinel Asia Success Story in the Philippines” for the Space Applications Working Group. Additionally, he was one of the panelists for the Special Session at the Plenary; the theme was “Societal Needs and Space for Practical Applications.” He again introduced the Sentinel Asia Success Story as one of the examples of ongoing space applications.

Secretariat

First, how do you validate the activity of Sentinel Asia Step 2, which was completed in 2012?

Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr.

The Sentinel Asia activity is very important and there’s a very obvious application in terms of using space to address certain issues associated with the safety of people. What has been done in the Philippines is to use Sentinel Asia not only in terms of responding to a disaster that just occurred but even before one occurs through the use of space data, such as images or statistics about rainfall, that can be used to deliver information quickly. All of these can be used to truly prepare people by making sure that they understand the hazards in their respective areas. Second, with the technology available and the combination of space and other activities that an organization can conduct, a monitoring and warning system can be developed.

So, Sentinel Asia, although it was advertised as essentially a disaster response activity, is more than just disaster response. A very big component is preparedness, as its images are useful even before a disaster occurs.

A lot of things can be done with the images. You can interpret the possible hazards in the area. You can look at what is out there that can be affected by hazards—that would indicate the exposure. Definitely, images can be used to monitor a particular place if they are captured sequentially for a long duration.

Secretariat

So, you talked about the early warning system using this system in your presentation to the Space Applications Working Group.

Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr.

Yes. Regarding the concept of early warning, with the United Nations concept, you must first identify the potential hazards and risks in the area so that you can decide whether you want to monitor those hazards if there is a significant risk. Second, you can use the images to monitor the hazards.

First, for hazards and risk assessment, you can use space. Second, for monitoring, you can use space images and other information (regarding precipitation, for example). Third, after you monitor and forecast an activity, then you warn—you warn the public; you warn the local government; and you warn the disaster managers. In issuing warnings, you can, possibly, use many space applications; of course, after you warn, then you need to make sure that people respond to your information.

In the Sentinel Asia success story in the Philippines, all our activities were geared toward enhancing the capacity of the local government and disaster managers who would execute the order for evacuation, if necessary. Additionally, increasing their capacity would be authorized so that, even before a disaster would take place, they would understand the data that they will be delivered and understand what steps can be taken. Of course, the Sentinel Asia success story activity is not a stand-alone activity in the scheme of holistic preparation for a disaster because we tried to link it with other undertakings such as ground-based and community-based disaster preparedness.

So, you have to make sure that the people are ready and that leaders are equipped to understand the information that you will give them. That is, essentially, the end-to-end early warning concept.

Secretariat

So, in the Philippines, Sentinel Asia is an important and profitable system for your country.

Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr.

Yes. With the provision of satellite images and satellite information, you have to establish a link with ground-based information because the two sources of data from above-the-ground and on-the-ground can complement each other. The above-the-ground information can provide a wider perspective of what is happening, and the ground-based information would be very specific. When these two are used together, one can validate the other. So, you can actually project other information that you might expect for other areas.

The operation related to Sentinel Asia’s success story in the Philippines did not rely simply on what JAXA had provided but also on our other resources. For example, we also use our own GPS network for monitoring ground movement, and we relate with the local government because of its experiences with certain phenomena in the area. We know that people have observed subsidence in the local area from the huge, prior extraction of groundwater for some time, but now they have a better way of quantifying how fast the ground is collapsing.

On the other hand, regarding the volcanoes that we monitor, space images and data are very important. These confirm our specific measurements on the slopes of the volcano—such as a point or a line—but space images and data can be expanded to cover the entire volcano. Essentially, our applications of space data combined with other activities have been very successful, and we are more confident sharing with the public what we know about the hazards, what we monitor, and what the risks are that they face.

Secretariat

Japan experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, so the utilization of space assets by the end user, such as the local authorities, monitoring organizations, etc., is one of the subjects to study. Is that the same in the Philippines?

Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr.

Yes. We do that. I think all governments need to make sure that the scientists and engineers who are involved in trying to understand in detail what can happen and what has happened should connect with their local governments.

The other thing that APRSAF should emphasize—and I think we are doing it—is that sometimes people wonder why one country would want to help another. With globalization and certain hazards that cross political boundaries, we all need to consider that if we help each other, the protection of one country may mean the protection of your country as well—not only directly in terms of a physical hazard, but economically.

Look at what happened after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan—the flood in Bangkok. We can all see that a big event can affect the whole globe, and it can affect our own country. So, what I am saying is that the protection of one country can be the protection of your own country, and vice versa. That is why we are looking at the initiatives of APRSAF, and, of course, the direct experience with Sentinel Asia, as a positive way of making sure that our own country is protected. We share what we know or we share our resources with one another because disasters are not simply a local or national problem but a global problem.

Linking APRSAF to other groups would be very important

Secretariat

So, sharing your experience, as you said, is a great benefit for APRSAF scheme; is that right?

Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr.

Yes. There are many global initiatives and Asia-Pacific Region initiatives that I am also part of; I think APRSAF should connect with these various initiatives. Although APRSAF is mainly focused on the use of space, I think it would be good to find out what other initiatives are in progress so that we can maximize our efforts.

In the Philippines, we see things from a better perspective because we are not a very big country and not too many scientists and engineers are working in these areas, such that when we promoted the Sentinel Asia success story in the Philippines (and it’s still continuing), we could relate what we are doing with other initiatives that are ongoing.

So, one area that can be improved with regard to the activities of APRSAF is to find out what other groups are doing and what APRSAF can do to help them and make a contribution.

Secretariat

Sentinel Asia Step 3 has already started. Do you have any expectations or requests regarding Step 3?

Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr.

Well, it was already mentioned by JAXA that Step 3 would be focusing on the community, the end user of the processed data that space agencies and other organizations like us are providing. In fact, as an application from our Sentinel Asia success story, although the different steps did not focus on or mention communities, we are actually demonstrating this emphasis in that all of our products are given to the community. So, it is a step forward when we make sure that the information is presented to and clearly understood by the public.

That would mean that ordinary people, maybe not only in Japan but in many other countries, would better appreciate the use of space. So, we have to deal with the public more, and that would be very good.

What I expect from APRSAF, with JAXA as one of the participating space agencies, is to continuously provide not only assistance but also benefits from the collaboration between space agencies and specific organizations. I think one positive thing that we can bring to the table is our experience in utilizing space information so that it can be used by the public. For example, images are images, but converting the information to hazard maps is different. Information about rainfall or precipitation can be converted into a warning, and we have a lot of experience with that.

So, I see good synergy between space agencies and users, engineers, and scientists; in the end, everyone should be able to utilize space data.

The plan of Sentinel Asia, especially by JAXA, to extend the Sentinel Asia success story to other countries would be a big step; therefore, counterpart organizations like us must make sure that we don’t think only of our own organizations but also of other organizations, and most importantly, what people want on the ground.

Our role in the Philippines is not only to think of our own organization, but to think of other organizations, the local government, and the people. Essentially, if that step is to be taken, there must be a coordinator in each country who must make sure that as many organizations as possible are involved and that they have a good understanding of the necessary products to be given to the public through the local governments.

If we do that, then we are positively making sure that space information, space images, and space tools can be utilized to save more lives, thereby making communities more resilient to disasters.

Secretariat

So, can we say that the goal of utilization of space is how ordinary people can benefit from space assets?

Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr.

Yes. I think all the things that we do—from exploring space to utilizing technologies up there to look down at the earth or communicate whatever you want—are all geared toward improving life and lifestyles and making communication faster and easier. For those of us in the disaster reduction sector, making sure that people can be safer before a disaster occurs, and especially, making sure that we can warn them of an impending disaster, are extremely important goals.

If there is an anticipated disaster, an immediate response is necessary so that fewer lives are lost. After a major disaster, there would be victims, and we want to prevent victims from dying. After a disaster, we want to make sure that recovery occurs more rapidly, and this will happen only if there is a plan that can be developed right away; then, it must be facilitated based on a correct assessment of what happened. Everything needs to be fast, accurate, and based on scientific information; one way is through remote sensing.

I think in the Philippines we have a good understanding of that. My organization has a good understanding of that. I also think that Sentinel Asia Step 3 is operating on a bigger scale than any used before; so, those who will be involved should have a holistic way of understanding things. It’s not all about the organization but what we want done and what we want the public to get from us.

Secretariat

The scope of Step 3 is very broad in terms of the activities and those who are involved; would you agree?

Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr.

Yes. It’s bigger and the goal is a bit more challenging because we want the public to become direct recipients of the information.

Secretariat

PHIVOLCS and the Philippines have accomplished a lot that can be shared with other countries. In addition, in the future, what do you expect from APRSAF and what do you expect to do for APRSAF?

Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr.

I think APRSAF, as I mentioned earlier, can have a very big impact on the local population. Initially, the goal of Sentinel Asia was to provide information after a disaster. However, as we know now, there are many working groups that deal with addressing not only rapidly occurring disasters but also slowly developing ones like climate change or drought. In addition, the impact of the environment on agriculture is being addressed. I think that, for the benefit of everyone, space agencies should just continue to provide information when possible and ensure free access if the information is indeed needed.

I also see a change in a space agency like JAXA. Because we collaborate, JAXA is providing images that are needed to prepare the population for a possible disaster. The images are also being processed with information that can be used to produce a hazard map. That represents a change that I hope will catch on with other space agencies, although there must be a balance, of course, between freely providing information and making sure that you have enough money to operate.

My expectation is that APRSAF will link up space agencies with users of space information and other people on the ground. For example, if our topic is climate change or disaster, we need to communicate with other groups about our work, and we need to have people who engage with the community connect with us or share information so that the data we produce can reach as many people as possible.

Linking APRSAF to other groups would be very important, and that is what I can contribute because there are many other groups working in the disaster field. Many other participants attending the conference can also help.

Dr. Solidum (left) stressing the importance of practical space application in the Special Session at the Plenary

I can also share my experiences in conducting a project like Sentinel Asia—a success story. Our involvement with Sentinel Asia has been very fruitful. We know of some problems, and we know how to solve them. We engaged in many similar activities previously; that is why we were more or less expecting the Sentinel Asia success story when we were approached by JAXA years ago. Definitely, we have to make sure that all our activities are linked so that coordination is smooth and we know what we can and cannot do. We have to admit that there are some things we cannot do and that we need help from others. So, that’s very important.

I think that we have credible experience in making practical applications from space. We are not saying that we have the credentials to do everything, but we can contribute a little bit toward the realization of Step 3.

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