FORT BELVOIR, Va. – Employing techniques normally used to pinpoint battlefield positions for military commanders, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Topographic Engineering Center (TEC) recently came to the aid of hurricane victims in Alabama and Florida.
The TEC Operations Division used aerial photography and census information to provide time saving analysis to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planning and response teams in the field and to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) members on the forefront of operations in areas devastated by the hurricanes.
Mr. Andrew Bruzewicz, the Corps’ representative for disaster response, contacted TEC in early September to request imagery support for the Corps’ temporary roofing and repair mission in the wake of Hurricane Frances. TEC team members analyzed aerial photographs of the region and census grids to provide information on homes that could be salvaged with temporary roof repairs.
TEC’s assistance helped focus recovery efforts and gave the Corps and FEMA an alternative to time consuming ground surveys. As few as five to 10 geospatial analysts were able to analyze 65,000 damaged roofs within a small geographic area in a single day. This quick response and the man hours saved allowed people in damaged areas to return to their homes more quickly.
Although civil support is not TEC’s primary mission, the center was able to redirect its analysts on short notice to respond to the information needs created by this civil emergency.
As a research and development agency, one of TEC’s goals is to seek new technology and methods for improving products and services provided to American, at home and on the battlefield.
“This was definitely a new type of support for our EOC and I think it challenged our analysis and leadership skills in a good way. I think we came together as a team to support the hurricane recovery just as we would any military emergency and it was equally rewarding to know we had helped those in need,” said Julie Kolakowski, current operations team.
“It was a team effort from the start. People from different backgrounds and specialties came together to accomplish a mission that was important to the Corps. Many of the lessons learned can be directly applicable in the event of a crisis or military mission,” said SGT Robert Corn, topographic analyst.
The one-foot resolution imagery is delivered to TEC daily and consists of rectified color image strips that have been processed into image tiles soon after collection that represent an area of 4,000 by 4,000 feet on the ground. A GIS polygon index file of the imagery extents is made to depict flight lines, individual image tiles, prioritize analysis areas, and assign analysts. TEC geospatial analysts then analyze the imagery tiles to determine residential roof damage and a GIS point file is created for each damaged house. When the analysis is complete the point files are consolidated and compared to census data to determine the percentage of residential roof damage in each census block. Decision aids are then produced that depict these areas of roof damage
Hurricanes Frances and Ivan Timeline
- Sept. 2, Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters, contacted the Topographic Engineering Center asking for imagery support of the Corps’ temporary roofing and repair mission for Hurricane Frances.
- Sept 3, TEC, current operations team (COT) began initial planning.
- Sept 8, The first imagery arrives at TEC from the hurricane-battered areas. No imagery collected previously because of cloud cover in Florida. TEC developed analysis plan and tested analysis methods.
- Sept. 13, Two of TEC’s teams from the Terrain Analysis Branch began analysis.
- Sept. 15, TEC was provided a warning order that similar analysis would be required for areas affected by Hurricane Ivan.
- Sept. 19, The imagery from Ivan was delivered to TEC. The data was loaded and analysis planning was completed.
- Sept. 20, The first analysis from Ivan was completed.
- By Sept 22, TEC was analyzing one section per day.
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