Space For Smarter Government Programme – Showcase 2017

SSGP ShowcaseI attended the Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP) Showcase in November 2017 in the BEIS Conference Centre in London. The slides from last year’s event can be found on the SSPG website (here). We can expect similar publication of this event in due course.

The stated purpose of SSGP is “Enabling the public sector to save money, innovate and make more effective policy decisions by using space technology and data”. The premise being that the capabilities offered by space science including Earth Observation and Communications offers the ability to deliver some current programmes of work more efficiently and to deliver capabilities that were previously unavailable. The progress made is hampered by the lack of understanding by the potential customers of the abilities available and the lack of understanding of the needs of the customers on the part of those developing the technology. This showcase is one of the attempts to get the two sides to communicate more effectively and drive forward better and more cost effective government services. The term used was “willing partnership”.

A number of projects were showcased. These included

  • improving the management of peat lands and thereby improving water quality and lowering costs in Scotland;
  • improving the monitoring of the health of forests;
  • Improving the monitoring of land usage, in particular which crops are being grown;
  • Improving the monitoring of flood water and areas at risk.

These projects relied on the ability of data analysis to look at how the signals from earth observation vary in relationship to what is on the ground and to calibrate it against relatively small scale land-based surveys. Once the system is calibrated it can cover very large areas quickly and provide a lot of information and/or help focus ground resources. This has resulted in significant savings in the costs of inspections while improving their coverage.

Earth observation can also highlight changes from period to period, allowing unexpected changes to be investigated on the ground.

The real prizes are gained when different datasets such as ground surveys or instruments, drones, helicopters and satellites are combined. Each adds different levels of resolution and area covered to give a big picture.

In the area of air quality there are significant improvements in the data sets available. This includes improvements in the resolution and repeat period (numbers quoted were moving from a resolution of 20 km squares to 7 km squares and a repeat frequency from once a day to hourly). The speed at which data can be released for analysis is also improving – down to three hours in one example quoted.

We also heard of studies

  • looking at the reusability of applications in an effort to improve uptake. A project which proactively looks (looked?) at applications in use or development and considered other uses of the output within government departments.
  • The development of a “digital twin” for infrastructure aiming to optimise maintenance and replacement programmes by improving the knowledge of the state of infrastructure and the loads on it.
  • The use of satellite data and communications to help monitor the conditions of the NDA’s estate which is widely distributed and in some relatively inaccessible locations.
  • A team dedicated to forming a bridge between the developers and potential users by being aware of developments and capabilities and trawling government departments seeking potential uses. Experience from this is that end users generally don’t always want to see complex maps or charts but want an answer to a question. The knack is to enable the providers to provide a service while insulating the end user from the technology and jargon.
Keith Pearce (Katmal Limited) and Rick Short (NDA) at the SSGP workshop

It is worth noting that the software being developed is developed with the future in mind. The developers know that there will be more data and more varied data in the future. Some of this they can predict. Some of it, particularly further out in time, they can only guess at.

There was a session on the use of satellite data in an emergency and in the recovery stages. Data can show the near-current situation over a wide area and can show how it has changed since before the emergency. It can also enable secure digital communications with minimal and resilient ground equipment – although questions were asked about band width which can be an issued with multiple units in a small area.

There is a nice summary of the state of play of Environmental Earth Observation in the Houses of Parliament PostNote 566.

It seems clear that the use of satellite data has the potential to transform many services but is currently being hampered by a development and adoption barrier. The great strength of satellites is their wide area coverage and repeat rate. The weakness is that the information has to be extracted from vast amounts of digital data and, at least in the development phase, compared to ground truth surveys. The strength will go on growing as more satellites and more modern satellites provide ever more data. The weakness will diminish as experience increases; more applications will be developed and computers will become more capable of sifting the data and illuminating the interesting bits. Importantly, once an application works in, say, Hampshire it can be applied, with virtually no additional cost, in the Highlands of Scotland or, indeed, anywhere in the world. There is a great deal to be gained from getting over the development and adoption barrier, both for the functions of UK government and for future exports or foreign aid in kind. The Space for Smarter Government Programme is of great value and well worth support.SSPG

© Katmal Limited

Emergency Services Show 2017

Emergency Services Show 2017, NEC, Birmingham 21 September 2017

This show filled a large hall at the NEC with nearly 500 exhibitors and several small lecture theatres providing short presentations.

The highlights of my day there included two talks and some interesting developments that are described below.

Luana Avagliano and Ben Platt gave a presentation on Resilience Direct. I was interested that her advice was to think of the most extreme outcome and prepare for that. This is increasingly a theme in government emergency planning/resilience which is replacing the concept of planning in detail for the worst reasonably foreseeable event (itself pretty bad and of low probability) and in less detail for the extreme events (extendibility). The loss of this “proportionality” makes emergency planning much more expensive.

Her other theme was the importance of recovery. It is true that we used to plan in detail for initiating an emergency response (when to call people, who to call, what to tell them, where to collect them together, and their roles and responsibilities including initial actions). The idea being that once they were up and running they’d manage the initial issues and then move into recovery when the time was right. As time went on the “recovery” bit became a bit more visible and was tested to an extent. However, recent events have shown that the media, and then the public, are unmerciful towards any perceived failure to make the victims comfortable in the hours, days and weeks following an event and that a swift return to the old normality is considered a minimum expectation. It is right to give this area attention. Community resilience is about getting back to normality as quickly and as painlessly as practical no matter what the shock.

Ben spoke about the new lessons learned processes being added to the Resilience Direct platform. They appear to be well thought out and comprehensive.

Paul Channing from Hampshire Fire and Rescue give a talk on their “safe and sound” programme. This is on online application that asked a few questions (it was designed to take no more than a few minutes) and then based on the answers provides a personalised safety brief. For example if you answer that there are no smokers in the household it doesn’t give the advice on fire safety with regard to smoking. If you have people over 65 in the household it asks more questions and, where appropriate, points to the “safe and well” project that provides advice and practical help to this age range.

This appears to be a well-managed project with a clear focus, targeting the key domestic fire risks, linking to related projects, using focus groups to help with the design, collecting data for feedback and presenting easy to understand customised advice to the user.

The idea of using a short questionnaire in this context; where do you live? What age ranges live there? Risk factors etc. before giving customised advice is obvious once you’ve heard it but clever.


I was impressed by Horizonscan which is a company that offers business continuity training but also offers “Crisis boardroom”, a crisis pack consisting of a large suitcase which, in turn, contains a number of other bags each of which contain laminated Command and Control Boards, individual tabards and name tags, stationary and role aide-memoirs. It appears to provide a complete crisis management tool kit in one bag. The tools themselves seemed to be well thought out, designed and produced.

This would be a good place to start for any Company seeking to introduce business continuity to their board as the tool kit provided looks the part.

I’ve mentioned 999-eye from PageOne before. I think that it is a product that would be useful in the nuclear industry.

I liked the orvecare thermal emergency blanket so much that I bought two, one for my car and one for my wife’s car. It takes up less room than the sleeping bag I used to carry in the boot in winter and can stay there all year. It might one day prove useful.

The AlfaDrop Box does look like a possible candidate for a rapidly deployable “space”. It could be a control room, a shelter, a store, or a change facility – whatever. With the vehicle at about £39k and the boxes from £7k upward you could have one vehicle and many boxes which could be deployed quite quickly. Thunderbirds are go! (See video).

Finally a quick message to the organisers. We all now know that LEDs can make bright lights in a range of colours and can flash. We also know that human ingenuity can think of lots of ways of using them. The exhibition room was full of the damn things making it a quite uncomfortable working environment. Maybe in future limit “lights on” for five minutes every hour?

Natural Hazards Partnership

Natural Hazards Partnership

I came across the Natural Hazards Partnership at the Emergency Services Show. Their role is to “provide authoritative and consistent information, research and analysis on natural hazards for the development of more effective policies, communications and services for civil contingencies, governments and the responder community across the UK” (Quote from their information pack).


The Information Pack they were giving out is nicely packaged, a few pages of description and analysis of each of the main natural hazards identified. These are from their Science Notes. It is a shame that their Daily Hazard Assessment is only available via Hazards Manager. Those of us in SMEs are unable to gain access.