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National Flooding Exercise Hones use of Satellites to Improve Disaster Mitigation
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Last week a team of space experts led by British company DMCii participated in a national flooding exercise, “Exercise Watermark”, to determine how satellite imagery, satellite communications and satellite navigation could be used to improve UK emergency response. The team represented an ongoing project funded via the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) as part of its contribution to the European Space Agency (ESA) IAP programme. 

Exercise Watermark was masterminded by the Environment Agency, on behalf of DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly Government, following recommendations of The Pitt Review into the flooding emergency in June and July 2007 that resulted in 13 deaths and an estimated financial cost of £3 billion. The exercise used scenarios based on severe weather conditions including flooding from the sea, rivers, surface water and reservoirs to put the UK’s emergency plans to the test. 

During a disaster, space-based services can provide disaster response teams with up-to-date satellite maps and asset tracking capabilities to improve their situational awareness. Damaged or overloaded communications infrastructure on the ground can be reinforced using satellite telecommunications.  

British remote sensing company, DMCii, led the team of space experts who observed Exercise Watermark as part of the ‘Integrating Space Assets for UK Civil Resilience’ project. At the culmination of the 14 month project, the project team will recommend a system using space assets to improve situational awareness for the risks identified in the UK Government’s National Risk Register. 

Adina Gillespie, DMCii Project Manager, said: “Exercise Watermark provided the team with a unique first-hand view of how a disaster is handled on the ground. We know the contingency community doesn’t need to understand whizzy gadgetry, so now we’re asking ourselves how can we incorporate information from space assets seamlessly into their existing disaster response procedures”  

During the course of the exercise, the incident command centre in Wales coordinated efforts with strategic command operators, whilst feeding into national COBRA meetings at the Cabinet Office in London. The UK resilience project’s experts engaged with emergency services who are not necessarily familiar with space systems and assessed their needs. The project team also added a test activation of the International Charter: Space and Major Disasters to the exercise. 

As the UK’s representative in the Charter, DMCii coordinated the response to requests for imagery by the Welsh Assembly Government and Cabinet Office. The European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency and The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and DMCii all responded to the request, supplying satellite imagery from which disaster response maps were produced.  

The UK resilience project benefits from a five-strong consortium. DMCii and fellow specialist Infoterra UK provide satellite imaging and mapping experience; Avanti Communications provides experience of secure back-up communications to the private sector; Nottingham Scientific Ltd. is a world leader in safety-critical satellite navigation systems and the British Geological Survey provides additional expertise on geoscience technologies related to flooding.  DMCii will debrief the participants of the exercise next month, looking at how space assets were used during the exercise and how they could be better-used in future civil contingency responses.  

About DMC International Imaging Ltd

DMC International Imaging Ltd (DMCii) is a UK based supplier of remote sensing data products and services for international Earth Observation (EO) markets. DMCii supplies programmed and archived optical satellite imagery provided by the multi-satellite Disaster Monitoring Constellation. DMCii’s data is now used in a wide variety of commercial and government applications including agriculture, forestry and environmental mapping. 

In partnership with the former British National Space Centre (now UK Space Agency) and the other Disaster Monitoring Constellation member nations (Algeria, China, Nigeria, Turkey and Spain), DMCii works with the International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’ to provide free satellite imagery for humanitarian use in the event of major international disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes, fires and flooding. 

DMCii was formed in October 2004 and is a subsidiary of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), the world leader in small satellite technology. SSTL designed and built the Disaster Monitoring Constellation with the support of the then British National Space Centre and in conjunction with the other Disaster Monitoring Constellation member nations listed above.  

For more information, please see

About the European Space Agency and the Integrated Applications Promotion (IAP) programme

The European Space Agency is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver ever more benefits to all the citizens of Europe. 

The objective of ESA’s Integrated Applications Promotion (IAP) programme is the development of operational services for a wide range of users through the combination of different systems. By using and integrating different space assets (e.g. Earth Observation, satellite communication, satellite navigation, manned space technologies), improved or new services on a regional, national or European scale will be created. Intrinsic to these new applications is the added value of space and the long-term sustainability of the resulting services. The programme thereby responds to user needs in areas such as health, safety, energy, transport and development. 

For more information, please see:

About the Technology Strategy Board

The Technology Strategy Board is a business-led, executive, non-departmental public body, established by the government. Its role is to promote and support research into, and development and exploitation of, technology and innovation for the benefit of UK business, in order to increase economic growth and improve the quality of life. It is sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). 

For more information, please see

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