Research Highlights / Full Story

Last fall, RIT established the Information Products Laboratory for Emergency Response (IPLER) with the University at Buffalo (UB) and funded by a National Science Foundation grant.

Built on a foundation of state-of-the-art geospatial technology, IPLER's mission is to create a technology, policy, and business development incubator that will facilitate interaction among university researchers, private sector data, and product providers with public sector emergency response decision makers. The collaboration fosters innovative solutions for improved disaster mitigation planning, real-time response, and recovery efforts with direct societal benefit.

When the magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook Haiti on Tuesday, January 12, 2010, Don McKeown, distinguished researcher at the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, realized an opportunity to engage the IPLER collaboration and RIT remote sensing technology to aid in the recovery. With support from the World Bank and ImageCat Inc., IPLER deployed RIT's Wildfire Airborne Sensor Program (WASP) system and a LIDAR sensor from Kucera International over Haiti, collecting high-quality aerial multispectral imagery and 3-D surface measurement LIDAR information.

WASP, initially developed for the U.S. Forest Service, consists of three infrared cameras and one visible camera, combining high-resolution color with infrared imaging. Jason Faulring, systems integration engineer, operated the system from the twin engine Piper Navajo as it flew over the devastation and fault line, while U.S. Air Force air traffic controllers, operating without radar and limited radio communications, struggled with dozens of flights into and out of the disaster area. Covering 250 square miles in seven days, Faulring and the Kucera pilots flew at 2,500 feet above the ground, capturing images at 0.15m spatial resolution and laser scanning the surface, all while maintaining vigilance for other air traffic and high terrain.

Partnering with the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, the team transferred 960 GB of data via Internet2, peaking at 150 GB in 40 minutes. Back at RIT, a dedicated team of faculty, staff, and students led by McKeown and Dr. Jan van Aardt worked around the clock to process the data and distribute the information to relief agencies and emergency responders. Dr. David Messinger, assistant research professor and Dr. Bill Basener, associate professor, created a classifier to detect the blue relief tarps within the imagery associated with internally displaced persons (IDPs). By detecting the tarps, the exact geographic location of refugees could be determined to help direct distribution of relief materials to areas in greatest need.

The images can be accessed on UB's Virtual Disaster Viewer, and were also made available to Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, the United Nations, U.S. Geological Survey, and ERDAS, a software developer of remote sensing applications.

"The Haiti response effort is a case in point, where RIT and its collaborators were able to collect, process, and disseminate data, while also developing value-added geospatial products," says van Aardt.

"It was so gratifying to see the application of our remote sensing technology to such a noble endeavor," adds McKeown. "Even more so when you see how the members of the RIT team—at home and in the field—pulled together and made it all work."