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NASA, FEMA Focus on Disaster Prevention from Space
NASA Newsroom, December 7, 2000

NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and joined in partnership on a major national disaster initiative. It is affiliated with Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities. The cooperative agreement will result in updated and more accurate maps of flood plains, a better understanding of wildfires and maps to improve disaster recovery and mitigation by state and local communities throughout the United States. Under the new partnership arrangement signed by NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin and FEMA Director James Lee Witt, NASA and FEMA will apply science, technology and remote-sensing research images of the Earth taken by satellites to emergency management issues on the ground, such as mapping of flood plains, earthquake fault lines, and observation of wildfires and other natural hazards.

"This new partnership between NASA and FEMA demonstrates the diverse and wide-ranging applications of NASA's Earth Science research and technology and its benefit to the American people," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator of Earth Sciences, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. "The Office of Earth Sciences is eager to form new partnerships with other government agencies such as FEMA, as well as with industry and public groups to expand America's use of our Earth Science data." "I am extremely happy to have NASA as a Project Impact partner," said FEMA Director James L. Witt. "Using the technologies by NASA for disaster prevention will help in saving lives and make communities all across America disaster resistant." The agreement outlines a first cooperative effort to map flood plains in California's Los Angeles basin around Sacramento, CA Virginia Beach, VA the Red River along the North Dakota and Minnesota borders and San Francisco, CA. Using laser-imaging and radar-mapping data, NASA and FEMA are evaluating technology for creating more accurate maps of these areas that will help state and local officials model and understand drainage and run-off that are vital to their disaster preparedness. Local communities will benefit from these precise maps by better understanding the physical characteristics of their communities.

At the same time, NASA Earth scientists will gain valuable data for technology development, validation and calibration of satellites, and the understanding of land use and land cover, as well as flood hazards. America's flood-insurance industry also will benefit from the accuracy of these new maps, which will provide more precise views of flood-threatened areas. As the agreement is implemented, NASA researchers and their FEMA colleagues will use a variety of public and private satellites and aircraft mounted Earth-observing instruments. These efforts will help us to understand issues such as soil permeability and saturation, which affect how much water during a flood would likely be absorbed as opposed to remaining above the ground and possibly causing damage to crops, houses and communities.Satellite imagery also can provide state and local officials with maps of vegetation in areas prone to wildfires.

This information can be used by firefighters to determine which types of plants are more likely to fuel wildfires and better predict what paths such fires may take. Using airplanes and spacecraft that observe characteristics of the Earth invisible to the naked eye, researchers can better see characteristics of the Earth's surface that are changing and can indicate where Earthquake fault lines may be expanding, vital data for understanding and preparing for these dangerous phenomena.The partnership between the space program and FEMA is part of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, a coordinated research program that studies the Earth's land, oceans, ice, atmosphere and life as a total system. This initiative is part of an aggressive new strategy devoted to significantly increasing the application of NASA remote sensing data, information, science and technologies to societal needs, ensuring maximum return on taxpayer investments.