Drone imagery could help public officials be safer and more effective after natural disasters, based on results from a collaboration between FAU and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
Sudhagar Nagarajan, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, has been processing imagery the sheriff’s office captured with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone before and after Hurricane Irma. The goal is to locate and evaluate storm damage.
The drone generates precise positioning data and creates a three-dimensional topographic representation. The 3-D aspect is critical, Nagarajan says. “It lets us know how much of a tree is damaged or how much beach sand is lost. It also lets us see and quantify the damage to piers, bridges, buildings and other man-made structures.”
“Currently, damage assessment can be rather subjective,” says Lt. Traci Johnson of the Department of Fire Rescue at the sheriff’s office. She’s helping to establish their drone program. “Greater damage is going to correlate with more injuries,” Johnson said. “In an emergency, the processed data can help focus rescuers' efforts and help them avoid obstacles.”
The data collected in the aftermath of a natural disaster could give government workers an accurate picture of where debris needs to be cleared and predict areas that are likely to flood in the future.
Nagarajan recently started working with the sheriff’s office to explore uses for drone photography. To help continue their work, he has submitted a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation and Federal Highway Administration for additional funding.
This is Nagarajan’s first drone-based project related to natural disasters. He currently has a multi-year grant from Palm Beach County and the Bureau of Land Management to use drones and 3-D laser scanning to gather data on beach erosion.
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