The UN-SPIDER Knowledge Management and Information Dissemination System

Natalie Epler and Peter Stumpf

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UNOOSA/UN-SPIDER)

The Knowledge Portal

The UN-SPIDER Knowledge Portal (KP, is the Programme’s main vehicle to collect and provide all types of information that is relevant to the disaster management and satellite technology communities, and covered by the mandate of UN-SPIDER. It is UN-SPIDER’s response to the need for a comprehensive information gateway to space-based information for disaster management support. It is a web portal for information, communication and process support, offering orientation and guidance, and providing updates on the latest UN-SPIDER activities. Information on SpaceAid and updates on current disasters are issued, as well as reports about Technical Advisory Missions and UN-SPIDER workshops. Questions about availability, quality, accessibility and costs of space-based information are also answered on the Portal. The portal is open to the public and to anyone involved in the fields of disaster management and/or satellite technology.

The Knowledge Base on the Portal is meant to supply people involved in disaster management with basic knowledge and background information outside operational situations. The knowledge gained about the application of satellite technology will then benefit the decision making process in the event of a disaster and especially for disaster management policy and emergency planning. Knowledge of technological background and of best practices is also crucial for the development of mitigation and preparedness strategies. The Knowledge Base comprises several Guides and Compendia covering different aspects of the topics mentioned.

The Technology Guides offer background information on satellite technology and specific satellite missions. They cover technologies, systems and providers, and also detail satellite mission profiles, SatCom devices, SatNav devices, and a rapid mapping workflow.

The Disaster Management Guides are meant to provide information about policies and procedures concerning the management of different disaster types. They comprise a disaster management cycle overview, disaster profiles, and disaster management manuals.

Health Support Guides focus on the application of space technology in disaster medicine, offering both a telemedicine and an integrated vector-borne disease management overview. These guides are derived from workshop presentations, academic papers, latest research in the field, UN-SPIDER health-related activities and missions, etc.

The Institutions Guides provide the user with a comprehensive list of institutions and organizations that are active in the field of space and disaster management, along with an overview of their profiles and the necessary links to their various initiatives and divisions. Content is usually drawn from the institution’s website, offering a brief overview of the institution’s mandate and activities.

The Space Application Guides are meant to provide an introductory text (principle of application), overview (technical workflow, benefits, and restrictions), exemplary images and maps, as well as feasible products and services for every field of the 3D Space Applications Matrix as described below.

As for the Capacity-building Guides, they offer a capacity-building framework in the form of curricula comprising e-learning modules, virtual classrooms and training opportunities.

The content of the guides is continuously collected and updated, based on internet research and input from the user community.

Special information retrieval tools on the Knowledge Portal: Space Application Matrix and Visual Globe

Given the complexity of disasters on the ground and the organizational tasks of disaster management, guiding information on how to apply a particular technique has to be specific to the type of disaster and the disaster management cycle phase (mitigation, preparedness, relief and response, recovery and reconstruction). Guiding information on the application of a given space technique may also refer to more general humanitarian aspects such as health, critical infrastructure, humanitarian aid and security, e.g. in case of complex emergency situations not attributable to a specific disaster type. In order to facilitate the search for the right information, the three-dimensional Space Application Matrix provides an intuitive information retrieval tool which allows combining disaster type, disaster management cycle phase, and satellite technology to render relevant search results. Alternatively, the first dimension can also be switched to display general humanitarian aspects instead of disaster types.

The Visual Globe (still under development) is a search tool which offers a surface for displaying the content of geo-coded items. First and foremost, it is designed to support the work of SpaceAid. Information about ongoing and past disasters will be displayed in their respective geographic regions. Users on site will have the opportunity to upload ground truth data such as photographs or coordinates etc. to complement the disaster information on the Visual Globe. Furthermore it will enable users to find the contact data of experts on certain topics as well as the representatives of Regional Support Offices and National Focal Points based on a geographical search.

The UN-SPIDER Network as a keeper and provider of knowledge

The Network section provides links to the UN-SPIDER Regional Support Offices and National Focal Points, as well as access to an extensive contact database. If, for example, a member of the disaster management community wants to contact a UN-SPIDER National Focal Point or Regional Support Office, they can instantaneously find the contact data of the respective institutions as well as the basic information about them in the Knowledge Portal. The different institutions that are hosting the Regional Support Offices and the National Focal Points bring together an immense amount of knowledge and experience in different fields that can be accessed when needed. They include disaster management agencies, research institutions, satellite operators, and cartographic institutions. Through the UN-SPIDER Network their expertise is made more visible and accessible for the user community.

Furthermore, a communication platform is offered to Communities of Practice that need a joint working space to communicate and share content amongst themselves or with an open community. UN-SPIDER provides space on the Portal to these Communities of Practice that wish to cooperate on a certain topic related to the mandate of the Programme.

Publications: the monthly updates and the Newsletter

Electronic Updates are elaborated and disseminated on a monthly basis to present the most up-to-date information concerning UN-SPIDER activities, as well as news from the space and the disaster management communities. Events such as conferences and workshops that are supported by UN-SPIDER are also promoted in these Updates. The Updates are distributed to the UN-SPIDER mailing list, which comprises about 15.000 subscribers.

The Newsletters highlight UN-SPIDER activities such as Technical Advisory Missions, the development and implementation of the SpaceAid framework, special events as well as other relevant activities. While the monthly Updates and the News posts on the Portal provide brief overviews, the articles in the Newsletter go more into detail and inform about the work of UN-SPIDER in different areas. The link to the Newsletter is disseminated via the UN-SPIDER mailing list as well.

Publications: the JBGIS booklet and the planned VALID booklet

In July 2010, the Joint Board of Geospatial Information Societies (JBGIS) and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) published a booklet that outlines the potential uses of geo-information technologies to reduce the impact of natural or manmade disasters and risks. “Geoinformation for Disaster and Risk Management - Best Practices and Examples” brings together concise scientific contributions from experts around the world and creates a decision support forum based on their knowledge. The articles in the booklet cover natural disasters like earthquake, flood, volcano outbreak, tsunami, landslide, dust storm and wildfire, as well as societal issues like health care, refugee camps, urban sprawl and infrastructure security. Case related regional studies are complemented by presentations of global information systems.

As a next logical step it is planned to publish a booklet that provides an evaluation of benefits of the use of geospatial information for disaster management. A publication to that end would further help to raise awareness in the political and programmatic environment and to set priorities in research and development.

The intention is to produce a publication to give evidence of the economic, humanitarian and organizational benefit which can be realized by applying geo-information to disaster management. Both monetized benefit analysis and an expert stakeholder assessment will be applied in this project. The expected outcome is a differentiated, scientifically founded answer to the ever-recurring question: “How many lives have you saved?”


As this compilation of examples shows, UN-SPIDER is using various forms of collecting and disseminating information and of making knowledge and expertise accessible. The Knowledge Portal as a platform plays a crucial role for this task. It is important to note that the Knowledge Portal is a bidirectional communication tool and not a one-way information platform. Along these lines, contributions to the content and also to the further development of particular functions and applications from the user community are always requested and welcome.