NASA tech impacts disaster planning

NASA is bringing advanced sensing and surveillance technologies to Project

Impact, a 3-year-old federal program aimed at helping communities prepare

for disasters.

The aim of the project "is to build disaster-resistant communities,"

said Paul Bryant, a scientist at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA does this by providing grants to communities to identify potential

disaster situations and to find ways to ease or avoid them.

Now, NASA will be bringing satellites and phased-array antennas to the

program, providing FEMA and its customers new tools to detect natural hazards

and plan for potential problems, Bryant said.

"We're going to provide [images and maps] so people can see online where

they are and where their houses are relative to the flood plain," Bryant

said, offering an example of one hazard that the new service may help homeowners

prepare for. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires will also

be the target of the NASA/FEMA research.

Ghassem Asrar, associate administrator for NASA's Earth Science Enterprise,

said the partnership between the space agency and FEMA "demonstrates the

diverse and wide-ranging applications of NASA's Earth science research and

technology and its benefits to the American people."

NASA satellites will help map flood plains and earthquake fault lines,

and reveal the types of vegetation growing in forested regions. Firefighters

can use such information to determine which types of plants are more likely

to fuel wildfires and also predict the paths of fires once they break out,

according to FEMA.

Officials will use the phased-array antennas to measure ions along fault

lines. When the ions go from positive to negative — the result of a fault

being "squeezed" — we know an earthquake is coming in a few days, Bryant

said.

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