ISU Students Aid World Bank Disaster Risk Analysis Effort

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  Space News Business

ISU Students Aid World Bank Disaster Risk Analysis Effort

By LEONARD DAVID
Space News Correspondent
posted: 29 July 2009
03:19 pm ET






MOUNTAIN VIEW,
Calif.
— A group of International Space University (ISU) students are spending the summer at
NASA
Ames
Research
Center
here looking at ways to apply the principles of open source software development to the field of disaster risk management.

The brainstorming effort is being supported by the World Bank, which would like to see the students come up with some innovative, cost-effective ways for integrating satellite imagery and other Earth remote sensing data with risk assessment software the international financial institution uses to determine where best to invest in disaster prone areas in order to save lives and reduce property losses.

The World Bank, which provides development loans to the world’s poorer nations, launched an effort in 2007 known as CAPRA – short for Comprehensive Approach to Probabilistic Risk Assessment – that is seeking to identify how best to integrate Earth observing technologies and the information technology revolution with disaster risk management.

“The timing today is very good in a number of respects,” Edward Anderson, a disaster risk management specialist at the World Bank in Washington, told Space News in a July 8 interview. “There is a convergence of policies, a maturity of technology and, I think, the will to begin to ‘operationalize‘ a lot of Earth observation.”

In the disaster risk management arena, understanding the infrastructure at risk from any particular disaster is the most difficult unknown in the equation, said Richard Davies, a facilitator for the ISU team project and executive director of the
Western
Disaster
Center
, a nonprofit applied research center based on the
Ames
campus. Davies said that great strides have been made in disaster modeling. But without a firm understanding of variables, such as the number of people, buildings and roads at risk, models are only notional.

“Earth observing systems are beginning to address this gap,” Davies told Space News. “Imagery from the high-resolution commercial remote sensing satellites is beginning to be used to populate infrastructure databases. These data are especially useful in developing countries, he said, when combined with local ground truth.

The World Bank’s CAPRA program is developing a geospatial information systems-based risk management tool that incorporates readily available remote sensing data on winds, floods, landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes to help disaster risk mitigation specialists make decisions aimed at reducing the loss of life and property from disasters.

“We’ve seen that all the different components exist. It’s just bringing it together,” Anderson said, adding that The World Bank is putting the analytical tools together that will allow countries to access a variety of available remote sensing data and use it to inform public investments aimed at mitigating the impact of natural disasters or the creeping effects of global climate change.

So far, the World Bank’s CAPRA program is focusing its efforts on
Latin America
, specifically
Columbia
, and has produced a detailed infrastructure model of
Bogota
it can use to run a variety of disaster scenarios and calculate the resulting life and property losses. This risk analysis is then used by city planners, for example, to improve building codes. Or strengthen public infrastructure.

Anderson
said the World Bank is looking at expanding CAPRA to address all of
Latin America
, and eventually other regions around the world, “growing organically and learning as it goes.”

Davies said CAPRA’s expansion is held in check by the time and expense involved in developing the detailed infrastructure models required for high-fidelity risk analysis.

One objective of the ISU study team is to extend the capabilities of CAPRA to include hazard risk modeling for the rest of the world, said team member SyedShere, a program manager at Com Dev International in
Cambridge
,
Ontario
.

The study team, Shere told Space News, is taking on a number of tasks, including evaluating existing space- and ground-based techniques for hazard monitoring; gauging the operational characteristics of available Earth observing systems and assessing how to apply probability risk assessment to countries where detailed data is not available.

Shere
also said that ISU team members are appraising use of the NASA Ames-developed World Wind viewer – an open-source 3D interactive tool that leverages Landsat satellite imagery and digital elevation models obtained from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission that NASA flew in 2000.

The participating ISU students have been tasked by the World Bank to define how remote sensing satellite systems can be used to collect infrastructure data.

“This is still not as easy as it sounds and most folks still think that when we say disaster we are involved in using remote sensing for disaster response,” Davies said. “That is not the case. We are focusing on risk assessment, a function that occurs before the disaster happens to try to mitigate and plan ahead of time for the actual disaster when it does take place. In doing so, this is when you can save the most lives and reduce property loss.”