SatSure Ltd. uses satellite data and analytics to address agriculture, infrastructure and energy problems in India and beyond. But when catastrophic flooding threatened Kerala, India, SatSure needed hyperlocal weather data it could trust.
With help from IBM, SatSure integrated highly granular weather information into its data platform. This helped rescuers prioritize their efforts and minimize the flood’s devastating impact.
Provides 4.6 times more granular dataso that weather trends can be tracked more closely
Contributed to more than 80 rescuesduring the catastrophic Kerala floods of 2018
Offers tremendous potentialfor future growth and rescue operations
Business challenge story
An unexpected, urgent need
Established in 2016, SatSure amasses many different kinds of data collected by satellite and delivers it to customers in a manner that helps them address a wide variety of problems. The company focuses on building platforms and analytics capabilities that span the agriculture, infrastructure and renewal energy spaces.
Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer Prateep Basu explains: “In India especially, we are already seen as one of the pioneering companies when it comes to commoditizing satellite imagery–based analytics. We want to be one of the leaders in this space, especially because we look at solving problems in the developing world.” Whether it’s helping maximize crop production on agricultural lands or using satellite imagery to guide engineering projects, SatSure helps its customers look at the world with a modern perspective.
Until 2018, SatSure used publicly available weather data to help its customers. This data was fairly high level, offering insight into parcels of land 23 square kilometers at a time. Unfortunately, parcels of this size fell short. Basu explains, “In India, there might be 10 or 20 villages in a parcel of that size, so you miss out on micro-level information about what is happening within a village.”
In hopes of bringing more granularity to the weather-related data it offered, SatSure approached The Weather Company, which provides data in 500 sq m parcels — 4.6 times more granular than the information SatSure had been using.
Talks went well, and the team was on its way to beginning a pilot program when nature stepped in and ratcheted up the project’s urgency. Monsoon season had arrived in India, and the state of Kerala was experiencing record amounts of rain. On the night of August 8, 2018, the region experienced 75 percent more rainfall than average, and the government was forced to open an unprecedented 35 of the 54 dams in the region. The resulting floods were worse than anything Kerala had seen in nearly a century, and thousands of human lives were at risk. The situation required immediate attention.
Facilitating rescue operations
In response, the IBM and SatSure teams sprang into action and developed a dashboard that layers flood data with governmental data including roads, postal codes and more. SatSure used two different sets of weather data — rainfall and intensity of inundation — to track and predict the flood levels throughout Kerala down to the street level.
Basu explains, “Looking at the intensity of rainfall and the intensity of inundation, we were able to make decisions based on where the probability of submergence was high and where it was lower.”
Next, SatSure created rescue heatmaps that highlighted which areas would need help first. Says Basu, “The government was actually able to schedule search and rescue teams based on which places were going to have higher rainfall in the coming days.”
Local officials took advantage of the maps to prioritize rescue calls. Basu explains: “The government provided an emergency number, and a lot of calls were coming in. We were able to geolocate those calls to see which ones were coming from high-risk areas and then prioritize the emergency responses to those locations.”
The Kerala government also used social media as an effective way to communicate and share information. For example, several startup companies developed applications that used algorithms to crawl social media sites and assimilate various stress calls. Further, a group of student volunteers created an open source portal that later became the official web portal for relief, movement of goods, volunteer listings and private relief centers.
More potential for good
Today, the floodwaters have receded, and the people of Kerala are recovering from the flood’s devastating impact. For SatSure, knowing that its platform helped direct rescue efforts for more than 80 stranded Kerala citizens and the evacuations of another 12,300 is not just a point of pride but an inspiration. “We see ourselves expanding this solution to some of the most critically hit regions in the world when it comes to floods and cyclones,” says Basu.
“We are looking to provide this to governments and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] globally,” he continues. “We are working with IBM and creating a standard operating procedure for using big data for search and rescue.”
But the potential benefits go beyond search and rescue. “We have a lot of clients in the insurance space,” explains Basu. “A lot of houses were damaged in the flood. Our clients were able to use our platform to assess which houses they should survey first so that they could clear claims quickly and provide good service to their clients.”
As SatSure continues working closely with The Weather Company, Basu believes he and his company are looking at a bright future. “Aligning with a large company like IBM opens up a lot of new possibilities, which can be very helpful for a startup. Our business, like our relationship with IBM, is growing nicely,” he concludes.
Statement from Sivasankar, M., Secretary to Chief Minister of Kerala, September 2019
“Within hours after the scale of calamity that befell Kerala during the 2018 floods, volunteers, technology professionals from within and outside the state, as well as the state’s vibrant startup ecosystem, came forward and created a virtual open platform, http://www.keralarescue.in/. This platform became the main tool for effective coordination of all rescue, relief, rehabilitation and resettlement efforts.
“With the support of this young group, the Government of Kerala made effective use of social, digital and I4R Technologies during the entire disaster and post-disaster management phases. In the initial hours, the focus was on tracing distress calls for help, identifying the location particulars, plotting them on the rescue map and passing on the information systematically to the numerous rescue teams in the field, ranging from the central forces to neighborhood search parties to fishermen, large numbers of whom participated with their boats.
“In the next phase, the technologies were used for coordinating the movement of relief supplies, which came from all parts of the world and ranged from cooked foods to medicines and clothes. Technology was effectively used to set up a digital supply chain connecting collection centers and over 1,000 relief camps all over the state. The entire volunteer deployment was also done through the portal.
“Further, the above technologies were leveraged to do field-level damage assessment, loss enumeration, geotagging of damaged assets and ensuring transparency in the whole process. Social and digital media were also used in mobilizing contributions to the relief fund and to facilitate proper accounting and reporting by the rehabilitation and restructuring program.
“Beyond the technical expertise — particularly in new technologies and social and digital media — what has been heartening to note is the unbelievable level of sincerity, commitment and long hours that this group of youngsters and professionals dedicated to this project. This energy and expertise enabled the government to effectively manage the crisis.
“Use of satellite imagery data to triangulate actual locations of distress by startups such as SatSure and Strava has since prompted the government to set up the Space Technology Application Development Ecosystem in Kerala Startup Mission. Startup Mission will also be formally launching a disaster management technology incubator in Kerala shortly.”
Established in October 2016, SatSure uses satellite remote sensing and big data to help solve problems in agriculture, insurance, energy, communications and more. Based in Goldach, Switzerland, the company also has offices in London, Dubai and Bangalore.
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