Reports indicate that scientists from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), US, are sweeping the leveled city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti with high-tech imaging integrated into a small aircraft, which will help in the reconstruction of the city. The five-day flight, funded by the World Bank, is meticulously mapping the disaster zone to aid in crisis management and eventual renovation of the city. The twin engine Piper Navajo, operated by Kucera International, an Ohio-based aerial mapping company, will fly from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and refuel daily in the Dominican Republic. The plane flies at 3,000 feet over Port-au-Prince and other areas badly hit by the earthquake. The operation began January 21.

RIT is coupling an imaging system it created for the US Forest Service to detect wildfires using high-resolution colour 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. 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 non-governmental organizations that want to make use of this unique data set.

Thermal imaging provides relief and recovery agencies with critical insight not available from standard colour photography. “You can tell how much liquid is in a storage tank with a thermal camera,” said Don McKeown, scientist in RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Centre for Imaging Science and project manager. “You can make inferences of tanks that are full, tanks that are empty and tanks that are leaking,” he added.

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 (UPR) at Mayaguez with the help of professor Miguel Velez. According to Congressmen Chris Lee, “The imaging system in use by RIT scientists in Haiti is a real-life example of how this powerful technology can aid the recovery and reconstruction efforts in disaster areas.”

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