New Light Technologies (NLT) was the primary sponsor of this year’s second annual Geo4Dev conference, organized by the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), a hub for global development research at UC Berkeley. On November 15, 2018, the event brought together the country’s leading geospatial experts in conversation about the today’s role of GIS in international development and its potential for the future.
NLT’s Chief Scientist and Senior Consultant Ran Goldblatt served as one of the four chairs of the conference. Goldblatt, together with the other three chairs of this year`s conference – Patrick Vinck, Jennifer Burney and Marshall Burke – developed the theme in this year’s conference, which focused on geospatial research that addresses climate- and conflict-driven migration and humanitarian response. As a chair, Goldblatt took an active part in the selection of the papers, presenters and agenda.
The conference was initiated last year, in partnership between CEGA and the Big Pixel Initiative (BPI) at UC San Diego. Goldblatt, who was a post-doctoral researcher at BPI, remarked about his relationship with the conference: “Now with my transition to NLT, I am excited to continue this partnership with the academic community and a leading institution such as CEGA.”
The conference attracted more than 100 leading scholars. Chris Vaughan, Geospatial Information Officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), opened the day by delivering the keynote talk. He showcased some of the tools and methodologies the Agency developed in concert with NLT that have improved its geospatial capacities during disaster. The most revolutionary of which being the Area of Interest Tasker, an NLT-developed tool that allows FEMA to quickly prioritize satellite data collection during disasters and optimize resource allocation during high-stakes natural events.
CEGA was excited to have Chris Vaughn share his unique and timely perspective. According to Natasha Beale, CEGA’s Data & Measurement Program Manager, “It was extremely valuable for our community of researchers to hear about the real world opportunities and challenges FEMA sees in deploying geospatial analysis in humanitarian response, and to learn about the ways academics can get involved in developing these new tools.”
The conference consisted of 14 presentations and five lightning talks. It was structured into three panels. The topics of each included “Geospatial tools for Emergency Response,” “Monitoring for Fragile Environments” and “Towards Community Resilience.” Presentations spanned topics including how satellite data can be used for flood mapping that will build community resilience to how post-disaster data can be used for community recovery. NLT’s own Madeline Jones presented FEMA’s Hurricane Journal, a tool developed in partnership between the two organizations. The Journal is a web-based application that supports situational awareness and decision support during weather disasters and also facilitates real-time data dissemination to the public.
The conference featured multiple lightning talks, mini-presentations that lasted no more than five minutes. These were an opportunity for five researchers to introduce their work on geospatial analysis for disaster management and monitoring climate change. Lillian Peterson was included in this group, a 16-year-old student who specializes in remote monitoring during disasters. Already, she is competing in science fairs at the national and international level. Despite her age, her expertise and authority on geospatial work competed on the same level of the working professionals that presented alongside her.
Overall, the conference attracted approximately 100 scholars and industry leaders that all have one thing in common: their use of geospatial data to better humanity. The presenters came from multiple universities, national and international, as well as from non-profit organizations and the industry including Kumar Navalur, who is the director of global business development of the DigitalGlobe and Brittany Zajic, who oversees disaster and humanitarian response at operations at Planet.
NLT plans to continue supporting this conference alongside CEGA. Their shared goal is to make this conference one of the leading arenas for the use of geospatial data for monitoring and understanding international development, and, already, it’s on its way there.