Assessing Disaster Damage from 3D Point Clouds

Humanitarian and development organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank typically carry out disaster damage and needs assessments following major disasters. The ultimate goal of these assessments is to measure the impact of disasters on the society, economy and environment of the affected country or region. This includes assessing the damage caused to building infrastructure, for example. These assessment surveys are generally carried out in person—that is, on foot and/or by driving around an affected area. This is a very time-consuming process with very variable results in terms of data quality. Can 3D (Point Clouds) derived from very high resolution aerial imagery captured by UAVs accelerate and improve the post-disaster damage assessment process? 

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Comment by Gary Mortimer on May 18, 2015 at 8:55am

This must be the way it starts going with on the fly maps made at high accuracy. I often wonder why there are not more GPS helmet cams feeding yet more data from the ground as well. Just walking around in the first hour or two could make a heck of a difference in the next 24.

Getting the images up and away to the cloud to be processed by big machines at speed and then sent back to the folks on the ground might be the bottleneck.

I think in some ways the next Outback Challenge is about mapping areas quick.

Comment by Patrick Meier on May 18, 2015 at 6:07pm

Thanks Gary, and agreed re helmet cams, surprising that this is not more standard practice; only catch is data privacy issues.

Comment by Gary McCray on May 18, 2015 at 6:32pm

It seems to me in the case of a declared emergency, data privacy issue should be relegated to the back of the bus.

It really conflicts with the essential "greater good" license in effect in an emergency.

In the US we had a problem with this relating to a semi-residential area getting virtually wiped off the map from a mud slide up in Oregon.

The local Indian community forced local law enforcement to NOT allow a local humanitarian drone group to deploy to analyze for further potential for additional slides, survivors and victims - supposedly based on privacy issues.

In this incident alone, lives may have been lost because local authorities felt they couldn't avail themselves of this assistance, which they were welcoming until the Indian group intervened.

What nonsense in circumstances like this safety, imminent domain and common sense outweigh all other considerations and the authorities in charge need to be not hampered in doing what needs to be done.


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Comment by Gary Mortimer on May 18, 2015 at 9:18pm

I guess the privacy might be images that could end up in the pubic domain that might really upset families afterwards. There certainly have been some examples of that with media images of bodies causing great and genuine distress to folks many many miles away from the event that know its happened and want news. The modern moral maze. Fifty years ago those images would have been past an editors desk now they flow out live. 

I think I would balance some of it against modelling structures for first responders safe ingress and egress from collapsed structures. After all nobody wants another set of casualties.

A difficult subject all around. I'm sure tech will get ever more useful.

Comment by Patrick Meier on May 19, 2015 at 10:02am
I'm organizing and running a 3-day Humanitarian UAV Policy Forum in July supported by the Rockefeller Foundation; one of the key areas we'll be addressing is data privacy. We'll have leading humanitarian experts at the forum along with experts in data privacy. We hope to come out of this workshop with some initial guidelines. Important to keep in mind that informed consent is key and that releasing personal identifying information during humanitarian crises can (and has) put at risk communities in harm's way.

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