Ecuador Earthquake: Drones for Disaster Relief

Displaying Benoit_Duverneuil_ADAP_Portoviejo1.jpgFrench­Ecuadorian Drone nonprofit group is using satellite imagery and mapping technology assisted by drones to map areas affected by the most devastating earthquake to hit Ecuador in decades.

Quito, May 5th 2016 ­ D rones are serving a critical role in relief efforts following the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Ecuador on April 16th.

At least 660 people were killed and 4,600 injured, mostly in the northwestern coastal area of Manabí. Damages are estimated to US$2­3 billion. About 400 buildings have been destroyed in the cities of Portoviejo and Pedernales. In smaller towns like Jama and Canoa, over 90% of the infrastructure has been completely destroyed.

A.D.A.P (Aerial Digital Archaeology & Preservation), a French­Ecuadorian research group has been able to coordinate local and global efforts to help victims and first­responders.
Working with drone manufacturer DJI, high­definition satellite imagery company Planet Labs, UAV data processing software experts DroneDeploy, underwater open­source drone community OpenROV, and a network of UAV pilots UAViators, Benoit Duverneuil led a team to bring drone and digital mapping technology to the victims of the earthquake.Displaying Canao_orthM.png

A few days after the earthquake, a convoy composed by a dozen of vehicles left from Ambato with food, water, medicine and other supplies. Simultaneously, a group of pilots composed by local UAV professionals left Quito in the direction of the coast. Since, a fleet of drones is surveying the area, creating thousands of images that are then stitched together into maps and 3D representations.

Under the direction of the Commandante Flores and a military unit specialized in risk management our pilots have been able to successfully realize a few aerial surveys of the areas of Canoa, Jamas and Pedernales. “We were also able to inspect severely damaged structures such as water towers and multi­story buildings w i t h o u t p u t t i n g t h e l i f e o f t h e i r m m e n a t r i s k ” , e x p l a i n e d D o r i a n R o q u e , t h e l o c a l c o o r d i n a t o r o f A . D . A . P .

The team also trained local volunteers and professional UAV pilots as well as members from the military to use mapping softwares in conjunction with drone technology.

The maps will help first responders, aid organizations and state workers to identify where the damage was greatest, helping their local communities to rebuild faster and better.Displaying Pedernales_Aerial_Photography1.JPG
“One of the greatest challenge for first responders is to assess the magnitude of the situation — understanding what areas are damaged and where there are victims in need of help. They have limited resources and limited time. It is all about priorities and drone technology is a great decision­making tool” explained Benoit Duverneuil, drone expert and founder of the A.D.A.P research group.

However, despite its benefits, drones technology can greatly evolve to better support disaster relief efforts. Local regulations, extreme weather, limited battery life are some of the main difficulties. In a remote area, it is also very challenging to process and transfer gigabytes of data that drones collect.

“This is a learning curve and there is space for improvement”, said Duverneuil. “With the help of thermal cameras, LIDAR technology, greater payload capabilities to carry medicines and first­aid supplies we can certainly save lives ­ As drone technology is becoming more autonomous we also need to empower local communities with knowledge and experience to interpret the data. If locals were able to send drones to disaster area minutes after the earthquake it would make a huge difference”, he said.

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