Within an hour of the great quake striking Japan, the companies that supply commercial satellite pictures to the intelligence community and the Pentagon had dropped everything and begun providing images of stricken areas.
Geoey and DigitialGlobe stopped shooting images for commercial clients and "began emergency collection" of images which were then pumped in almost real time through a computing cloud and on to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency's special web portal set up for such purposes, Uyen Dinh, vice president for government relations at Geoeye said on Capitol Hill today.
NGA then made them available to the Defense Department and the intelligence agencies.
What made this unique from previous emergencies, Dinh said, was that the images were shared with Google for further processing and integration.
Packages of those before-and-after images were then loaded on 20 laptops, some of which were provided to the famous Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue who took them to Japan and began using them on the spot.
This response is part of a hectic pace that the commercial imaging companies have been set over the last month. On top of the Japanese response, they have been providing detailed coverage of Libyan border areas as well as images of Bahrain.
The contracts DigitalGlobe and Geoeye have with NGA give the agency priority access to images in times of emergency.