Disaster events have always been with us. Success or failure of a disaster response is often determined by timely access to communication and the exchange of reliable information. Especially, crucial is information acquired by on-site first responders responsible for initial disaster assessment. The rapid progress in satellite communication development is laying a foundation for a future where lack of communications will no longer be a limiting or paralyzing factor in disaster response. This paper discusses emerging satellite communications tools that can enhance on site assessment and change the way disaster management is viewed and carried out in the next century. 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.