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Lidar Images Haiti Disaster

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ROCHESTER, N.Y., Jan. 26, 2010 – In the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake that struck Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, scientists from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) are sweeping the leveled city with high-tech imaging integrated into a small aircraft.

Funded by the World Bank, and in collaboration with ImageCat Inc., the five-day flight is meticulously mapping the disaster zone to aid in crisis management and eventual reconstruction of the city. The operation began Jan. 21.

The twin-engine Piper Navajo, operated by Kucera International, an Ohio-based aerial mapping company, flew from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and refuels daily in the Dominican Republic. The plane flew at 3000 ft over Port-au-Prince and other areas badly hit by the earthquake.

RIT is coupling an imaging system it created for the US Forest Service to detect wildfires using high-resolution color imagery and thermal infrared with Kucera’s lidar topographical sensing system. Lidar makes precise measurements with laser pulses and complements the other modalities in 3-D layered image maps.

RIT scientists are surveying the damage in Haiti with high-tech sensors integrated into a small aircraft. They are using the data to produce information maps for relief and recovery agencies. (Image: RIT, World Bank, ImageCat)

Thermal imaging provides relief and recovery agencies with critical insight not available from standard color photography.

RIT scientist Jason Faulring is operating the camera system to survey damage and to detect fires, chemical spills and surface contamination on lakes and ponds. George Tatalovich and James Bowers are the pilots flying for Kucera International. Bowers is operating the lidar sensor.

Recovery crews will use the information in the reconstruction of Haiti. RIT is coordinating closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the US Geological Survey and nongovernmental organizations that want to make use of this unique data set.

The lidar capability detects and measures collapsed buildings and standing structures damaged by the earthquake. At the request of the US Geological Survey, Faulring is using lidar to map the fault line to estimate how much the earth moved. This information is critical to refinement of earthquake-risk prediction models.

Following each flight, Faulring transfers data from the equipment on the plane to a hard drive. He sends the data back to his colleagues at RIT using Internet access provided by the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez with the help of professor Miguel Velez. NYSERNet, a nonprofit Internet service provider, temporarily made available an unrestricted Internet2 pipe for the purpose of transferring files from Puerto Rico to Rochester. Brent Bartlett, imaging science staff researcher at RIT, also provided assistance transferring data collected in Haiti.

“This has been a huge team effort between RIT and a host of collaborators,” said Jan van Aardt, associate professor of imaging science and director of the Laboratory for Imaging Algorithms and Systems at RIT.

The laboratory within RIT’s Carlson Center for Imaging Science developed the sensor system and is working closely with RIT’s Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing group to explore applications.

“If it had not been for this close-knit collaboration between the two teams, we never would have pulled this off,” said van Aardt. “Next steps will include collaborative product development to aid the relief effort.”

Scientists and graduate students are working overnight at RIT in the Information Products Laboratory for Emergency Response (IPLER), a partnership between RIT and the University of Buffalo (UB), to process the data and make it available to a worldwide audience.

The image maps are posted online on UB’s Virtual Disaster Viewer and sent to servers at Google, Yahoo! Microsoft, United Nations, USGS and Erdas Inc., a software developer of remote sensing applications.

“The National Science Foundation-sponsored IPLER project, which has as a goal increased flow of knowledge needs between disaster responders, technologists and researchers, has been instrumental in igniting this effort,” van Aardt said.

Industry partners reinforced the efficacy of the Information Products Laboratory for Emergency Response. McKeown’s suggestion to help in the Haiti crisis management effort met with quick response from Kucera International, which provided the plane and two pilots, and from Ron Eguchi of ImageCat Inc., an international risk management innovation company that facilitated funding from the World Bank and is the prime contractor.

“We knew the capabilities of the technology,” McKeown said. “It’s more of an issue of what we could cover and when.”

A few near show-stopping hurdles dogged the mission and the crew’s ability to fly over Haiti from the start. Leaving the country with the necessary technology was the first obstacle. RIT had obtained an export license from the US Department of State with Department of Defense approval because of the military potential of the technology. The thermal infrared cameras and precision navigation system are export-controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. A second critical obstacle was getting clearance from the Haitian government to fly over its airspace. This obstacle was overcome, thanks to coordination by the US Air Force and the assistance of US Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY).

Additional support from Massa helped directly with RIT’s efforts to aid the relief effort with imagery. The congressman provided assistance in rapidly obtaining an export license and valuable insight into operational issues, based on his prior military experience, and provided help in coordinating the US military,  McKeown said.

“On behalf of the House of Representatives, I want to thank RIT for helping lead the technological effort to improve our rescue operations in Haiti,” Massa said. “The earthquake that hit Haiti is a serious humanitarian crisis, and I’m glad to have RIT involved in the relief effort.”

For more information, visit:
Jan 2010
An acronym of light detection and ranging, describing systems that use a light beam in place of conventional microwave beams for atmospheric monitoring, tracking and detection functions. Ladar, an acronym of laser detection and ranging, uses laser light for detection of speed, altitude, direction and range; it is often called laser radar.
thermal imaging
The process of producing a visible two-dimensional image of a scene that is dependent on differences in thermal or infrared radiation from the scene reaching the aperture of the imaging device.
3-D layered image mapsAmericascamerasCongressman Eric Massadefenseearthquakefault lineFederal Emergency Management AgencyHaiti disasterImageCatimaginginfrared camerasKuceralaser pulseslidarNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AssociationNYSERNetPiper NavajoPort-au-PrinceResearch & TechnologyRITRochester Institute of TechnologySensors & Detectorsthermal imagingthermal infraredtopographical sensing systemUS Forest ServiceUS Geological SurveyVirtual Disaster Viewerlasers

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