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Interview with Dr. Kazuya Kaku

Sentinel Asia celebrated its 10th anniversary on March 7, 2017 in Hanoi, Vietnam on the occasion of the fourth Joint Project Team Meeting for Sentinel Asia Step 3.
At this event, Sentinel Asia Steering Committee awarded member organizations and a person who have contributed to this framework remarkably. The awardees were JAXA, Asian Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC), Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and Dr. Kazuya Kaku from JAXA.

Dr. Kazuya Kaku of JAXA was among the honorable awardees to commemorate the 10th anniversary. APRSAF secretariat interviewed Dr. Kaku as he reflects on his past 10 years.
Dr. Kaku majored in applied physics in university and joined the National Space Development Agency of Japan, also known as NASDA (current JAXA), in 1982 and now works as a Senior Expert.


APRSAF Secretariat

How did Sentinel Asia start 10 years ago?


I started working in satellite-tracking for the first 10 years in NASDA, and then I was involved in a project of the Advanced Earth Observing Satellite (ADEOS) called “MIDORI.” After that, I have been working for space-based disaster management support using earth observation satellite data such as the Advanced Land Observing Satellite (ALOS) “DAICHI.”

The launch of Sentinel Asia was decided at the APRSAF-12 held in Kitakyushu, Japan in 2005. I joined it in the following year and I was involved in establishing the Sentinel Asia framework. It was also at that time that JAXA took its first step toward the field of disaster management with the launch of “DAICHI” in February 2006. Sentinel Asia was established in the same year. As you know, Sentinel Asia followed a step-by-step sequence from Step 1 to 3. Step 1 started in 2006 and Step 2 in 2008. Step 3 started in 2013 and it still continues today. I have been working as a Sentinel Asia secretariat member since 2006.

The APRSAF meeting in 2005 made the decision to establish this framework. I worked with other secretariat members to build this framework and to determine the implementation plan.

At that time, JAXA had just started engaging in disaster management activities. We started to engage in this area by establishing in 2006 the Disaster Management Support Systems Office within JAXA. JAXA is also a member of the International Disaster Charter - another framework for disaster response by space agencies existing since 2000.


Although the Charter existed before that, there had not been any Asian frameworks that would use space technology for disaster management. How did you coordinate with other Asian countries to realize this system?


We devised the scheme and system from scratch. We built necessary items such as space technologies and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technologies, which are needed for disaster management in Asian countries. We included emergency observation in this system. Although we had an opinion that the Disaster Charter could react to disasters in Asia, it would only address major ones. So, we considered that Sentinel Asia should handle small-scale disasters, too. Another aspect of Sentinel Asia is that we provide not only emergency monitoring in disaster response phase, but also other solutions using space technology for disaster mitigation and preparedness.

At first, only JAXA provided satellite observation data during Step 1. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) became involved after APRSAF-14, which was held in Bangalore, India in 2007.

Since ISRO’s joining, the members of Sentinel Asia have gradually grown to its current numbers. Unlike the Disaster Charter, we accommodate participation of Asian satellites even if they are small. We call for the participation of various Asian satellites. Even if an organization does not meet the criteria to become a member of the Disaster Charter, they can join Sentinel Asia.


Sentinel Asia is considered as a successful initiative of APRSAF. What factors produced to this success?


Well, Sentinel Asia has been an operational system thus far, so in this sense, it is a success. The step-by-step evolution which I mentioned is a large factor. We had not known much about disaster management when we started in 2006, and we did not know what we should do to start this initiative. Step 1 was a kind of trial; we disseminated satellite data which we considered useful and carried out promotional activities. During Step 2, we examined lessons and problems that we had encountered during Step 1, and improved the system. During this period, we acquired knowledge on how space technologies could contribute to disaster management. Then, Step 3 is the final phase. People from space-related fields learned a lot about disaster management, especially during Step 1 and Step 2, in this respect.


One of the characteristics of Sentinel Asia, like APRSAF itself, is that it has a scheme where various fields of institutions work together, not only within space agencies. From another point of view, it should be difficult to unite these players. How did you overcome this problem?


Collaboration with the disaster management community, via the Asian Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC) and its members, has been a part of major vision of Sentinel Asia from the outset. We have also set up Working Groups in the framework of Sentinel Asia consisting of specialists and researchers in each field which focus on specific disasters such as wildfires, floods, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), and tsunamis. As for the emergency observations, collaborative system among ADRC, space agencies and institutions for data analysis and value-adding has been organized.

Another point is collaboration with end-users for employment of Sentinel Asia by end-users. Now we, JAXA and other members, have been asked to represent the outcome of our activities. We keep demanding ourselves to see if our current activities are useful to the frontline of disaster management. Sentinel Asia should follow up on local users to exploit input from space technology - that is our way. Contributing to the society as well as daily life is a common target of APRSAF and Sentinel Asia. We are heading towards the same direction. In this context, JAXA conducted two programs. One is the Mini Project with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) for disaster response preparedness and another is the Sentinel Asia Success Story in the Philippine for outreach and cooperation for disaster risk reduction (DRR) in the mitigation/preparedness phase, and establishment of specific case-studies via regional cooperation that includes end-users. We hope that the number of institutions participating in these activities will increase and these activities will expand to many other countries.

Again, unlike the Disaster Charter which is a group of satellite data providers, Sentinel Asia is a group of participants from various fields. That is one of the merits of Sentinel Asia.

The scope of Sentinel Asia Step 3 is very large.


Do you foresee any issues toward Step 3?


Concept of Sentinel Asia Step 3 was derived from the lessons learned from Steps 1 and 2 and users’ requirements. Now implementation of this concept is required. The scope of Step 3 is very large. We intend to respond to the whole cycle of disaster management including “pre-disaster,” “just after the disaster,” and “post-disaster.” We also exploit a wider range of space assets; not only earth observation, but also including communication and navigation. So, the target of Step 3 is very large. Another scope of Step 3 is to be “end user centric.” We work with our users, and for this purpose, we should profoundly collaborate with each country.

The Success Story project ending in success in the Philippines is mainly thanks to the strong cooperation among agencies including local disaster management organizations in the Philippines led by Dr. Renato U. Solidum Jr., Director of PHIVOLCS. We can show this excellent example to other countries. If there are countries with a completely different state of affairs in which their domestic cooperation is rather weak, Sentinel Asia and APRSAF show their model of disaster management activities to such countries’ disaster management authorities and their space agencies. This is also one of the purposes of the Mini Project conducted by JAXA and AIT.

Now we are requested to envisage a target of Sentinel Asia Step 3. My idea is to make Sentinel Asia community-operated system in each country by establishing face-to-face human network among SA and local stakeholders such as disaster management organizations, research/technical institutes, and end-users through preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters.

This is the current scope and once we solve the issues of it, we will be able to see another level of the scope.


Now that you are to receive an award in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Sentinel Asia, how do you feel?


I feel deeply honored and appreciate that I have been working for Sentinel Asia for a long time since its foundation.

Having experienced various things in the past 10 years, I believe that human networking is the most important aspect of all. Even though it is difficult to maintain, especially when the person in charge changes to another, keeping a human network is very important.


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