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First Responders use NGA products during Nepal Earthquake response

 July 2, 2015

 Rachael Groseclose
 NGA Analysis Directorate

Virginia Task Force 1 and Matt Moniz, the 17-year-old mountaineer who was on Mount Everest during the April 25 Nepal earthquake, visited the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Springfield, Virginia, headquarters June 29 and stressed the importance of timely NGA imagery and mapping products to their response efforts.

Chris Schaff and John Morrison of VA-TF1, the urban search and rescue team sponsored by the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, deployed to Nepal after the earthquake to provide support, including the rescue of two people from collapsed buildings.

“We are the end user of the disaster atlases NGA creates,” Morrison said. “In country, it’s hard to download large volumes of imagery.”

For that reason, reach back support and being able to access smaller, more digestible pieces of data was essential to the mission, he said.

Timing is always an issue in these events, and most of the mapping and imagery they need comes out after the event, said Schaff, the program manager for VA-TF1.

“We are on a very short timeline for imagery and mapping,” said Schaff.

But technology helped them overcome some of the challenges slow data presents, according to Schaff and Morrison. The team used Garmin GPS and Android tablets loaded with Google Earth to help navigate the areas. They also accessed NGA’s public Nepal earthquake site.

“Having the public website with the map/area disaster map was tremendously helpful,” said Schaff. “We will push that out to the rest of the disaster community. If you need updated imagery, this is the place to go.”

In a country such as Nepal, people are not familiar with the concept of mapping, making imagery even more essential to the relief efforts, said Schaff. Without it, VA-TF1 could not get where they need to be to provide aid to the most affected regions.

Schaff and Morrison were joined on a panel by Matt Moniz, Moniz’s father Mike Moniz, and Karen Diener, president and CEO of KD Geospatial Solutions. Matt Moniz was at the Everest Base Camp when the earthquake triggered a massive avalanche and survived with no injuries and stayed in country to help with the recovery efforts.

The panelists spoke with members of the Integrated Work Group-Readiness, Response, and Recovery, and select others who supported the response efforts, in a preliminary session before opening the session up to a larger NGA-wide audience. The group discussed their experiences in Nepal, and how GEOINT helped them locate areas that needed the most aid and overcome some of the challenges they encountered trying to navigate within the country.

Even more essential to the members of VA-TF1 was the analysis of that imagery, which gave them the familiarity of the area that they needed, said Schaff.

“Knowing that this was a school, or that was a hospital is so important,” Schaff said. “We have such a limited amount of time, that this kind of data helps us target the big spots first so we can do the most good for the most people.”

For more information on NGA’s support to the Nepal Earthquake, see the fact sheet.