Satellite image of the Campfire in California, 2018.

Space: The Future of Homeland Security & Emergency Management

Space: The Future of Homeland Security & Emergency Management

By: Arthur J. Simental

February 29, 2020

Image: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey, and MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. (Stevens, 2018)

Space, often referred to as the “final frontier.” In relation to Homeland Security and Emergency Management space represents a new theater of technological advancement, innovation, capabilities, and services to the Homeland Security Enterprise. This article discusses how space technology, applications, services, and assets are beginning to shape the future of the Homeland Security Enterprise.

            Space Technology is a core enabler of what makes our world better and safer in all we do. Space is a Critical Infrastructure that touches all aspects of our lives – safety, security, defense, travel safety (maritime, flight, vehicle), logistics, public health & medical, etc. From how we predict, mitigate, prevent, respond, recover, communicate and build our communities, Space Technology plays an important role in supporting Homeland Security. The foremost example in the U.S. is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service and the Satellite Products and Services Division of the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), which provides real-time access to satellite data and products for the public and government (US Department of Commerce, n.d.). NOAA provides a wide range of services from operational imagery, fire products such as fire and smoke analysis, and hurricane tracking to weather forecasting (About the National Hurricane Center, n.d.; US Department of Commerce, n.d.) All of these services are enabled directly from the use of space technology. Clearly, space technology is already impacting various aspects of our lives.

            Space today, will make for a better tomorrow. Now more than ever, space assets and programs are becoming a larger part of the arsenal of tools available across the Homeland Security & Department of Defense spectrum. Space capabilities public and private are being leveraged and deployed to assist in risk management, information sharing, and intelligence & analysis applications in emergency management. Space capabilities and technology are being utilized during disaster operations to provide critical and timely data and information to end-users managing large scale, complex disasters, and emergencies. One example is that of the European Space Agency’s (ESA), Emergency Management Service. The ESA Copernicus earth observation program has developed an Emergency Management Service that can requisition the C-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payload on the Sentinel-1 satellite. The SAR payload is capable of providing a resolution of 10m within hours (ESA – Disaster Relief and Emergency Management, n.d.; ESA – Emergency management, n.d.). Earth observation satellites and technologies are being leveraged to provide advanced intelligence and geospatial data in addition to advanced modeling to support emergency response activities.

You can find more information on the European Space Agency’s Emergency Management Service here: ESA Emergency Management Service.

Another organization exploring space applications in emergency and disaster management is the United Nations – Space-Based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response or UN-SPIDER. UN-SPIDER is an international organization exploring the use and access of space applications in emergencies and disasters. According to UN-SPIDER, space capabilities, products, and services can significantly impact decision making pre-& post-emergency incidents by supporting risk reduction and providing real-time access to reliable data systems, geographic information, communications, measurement tools and analysis (Space Technologies in the UN | UN-SPIDER Knowledge Portal, n.d.; The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction | UN-SPIDER Knowledge Portal, n.d.). Space Technology represents the forefront of technological advancement and innovation, providing new means to support Homeland Security.

The impact of space technology can be seen across every aspect of our lives. We see this demonstrated large and small, such as in the gps systems we use to navigate everyday. These investments into space technology are demonstrating how critical they will be for the future of Homeland Security & Emergency Management today. They are already being utilized for emergencies and disasters, providing tremendous value and return on investment.

            Science and Data-Driven approaches to Homeland Security & Emergency Management. Space technology enables and supports the science and data driving Homeland Security today. In fact, the Los Alamos National Laboratory whose mission is to “solve national security challenges through scientific excellence” (Los Alamos National Laboratory, n.d.),has developed a series of miniature satellites known as “CubeSats” to provide low-cost earth observation for the Department of Defense. Eight Prometheus CubeSats have been developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory for demonstration and testing by the U.S. Special Operations Command, supporting Special Operation Forces mission requirements (Mattox, 2014). These CubeSats also have the potential for domestic Homeland Security & Emergency Management applications and missions. Each of these miniature satellites cost about $100,000 to manufacture, with an estimated life-span of three to five years (Mattox, 2014). A relatively small investment compared to the millions or even billions of dollars spent during complex, large scale incidents and disasters. Especially during the onset of an incident when traditional resources such as aerial reconnaissance and thermal imaging from agencies such as the Forest Service, Civil Air Patrol or Department of Defense aircraft are not readily available and take precious time to request, acquisition and deploy. These resources then take even more time to process, develop and share information and products to decision-makers and end-users. Existing space assets can be requisitioned to provide services such as imaging, mapping, and reconnaissance within hours.

Furthermore, you can see how space technology is already shaping how the Department of Homeland Security is fulling its mission with space technology. Recently, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) launched two miniature cube-shaped satellites (CubeSats) into space on December 3, 2018, via the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (Department of Homeland Security, 2019). These cubesats will play a vital role assisting the U.S. Coast Guard, monitoring artic maritime traffic and with search and rescue operations. “Mariners have relied on COSPAS-SARSAT for SAR since 1982. The system has aided more than 41,000 rescue operations around the world. With MEOSAR expected to complete no earlier than the mid-2020’s, and COSPAS-SARSAT’s increasing risk of outage, S&T and Coast Guard have sought small, cost-effective, easily-deployable satellites to help rapidly bridge these space-based architectures should the need arise” (Department of Homeland Security, 2019). As smaller satellites become easier to transport, more cost effective, and launch vehicles like SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket B1046 become less costly and more reusable they serve to demonstrate how the future of DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate will evolve. “Undoubtedly, the results and knowledge gained by the Polar Scout Satellite Project will lead to force-multiplying solutions for the Department, which is a big priority in this age of complex threat cycles” (Department of Homeland Security, 2019). This is just one area in which space technology will change how nations respond to incidents of all types.

            Space assets present a viable, cost-effective alternative resource with multiple capabilities to emergency managers, homeland security officers, and first responders in a resource-scarce environment. Especially when compared to competing for traditional resources presently used during incidents today, space assets can provide more accurate data, that can be safely requisitioned faster during incidents. Space assets provide new, valuable tools, applications, and services to organizations that support and drive the future of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. This perspective is reflected in the 2006 National U.S. Space Security Policy, Space Policy Goals: “ensure that space capabilities are available in time to further U.S. national security, homeland security, and foreign policy objectives” (United States, 2006). While the use of space technology during emergencies and disasters is certain and likely to become more vital to all phases of emergency management. What is yet to be known is what the framework and capabilities for space assets looks like, and ultimately how these tools become available to first responders and decision makers at the state and local levels.

In conclusion, space assets, applications, and services can be used very effectively to inform and guide decision-makers about the hazards and threats that face humanity by producing information for communities to better protect and prepare their families, homes, and businesses. Globally, the use of space technology, applications, and services in Emergency Management, Public Safety, and across the Homeland Security Enterprise are just beginning. Space technology will become more and more vital to all aspects of homeland security and emergency management.


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US Department of Commerce, N. N. E. S. D. and I. S. O. of S. D. P. and D. (n.d.). Home Page – Satellite Products and Services Division/Office of Satellite and Product Operations.