Columbia mudslide: recommendations for UAVs for search and for public works

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Columbians in the wake of the terrible flooding and mudslide.

CRASAR’s experiences with such situations suggest that it is a very difficult search and rescue (and victim recovery) problem. We’re assisted with the Oso Mudslides in partnership with the Fit Innovation Team (some of the video is the highlight reel) and also with the 2015 Texas Memorial Day floods with Lone Star UAS Center which swept over 40 people over a 5 mile area of remote river wilderness. Please note that while our UAV flights at the Memorial Day floods were victim search and recovery missions, the Oso Mudslides was for Public Works. When a disaster happens, while search and rescue teams are working, the engineering experts are also working to mitigate and prevent further catastrophes and to start on economic recovery. Both are important missions!

Here’s some videos that we prepared for the White House and Congress on the use of UAVs, artificial intelligence, and informatics technologies.

From our best practices guides, here are some recommendations for UAV operators:

Standard procedure is to take high resolution imagery and then have a group of trained experts examine each image.  Crowd sourcing can have two problems if not done correctly. One is that most people make major mistakes interpreting aerial images, particularly when the images may be from different altitudes or looking straight down. Hence “trained experts.” Formal methods exist for rating the accuracy of  people looking at the image (called coders). The other is unintentional violations of privacy– putting out images that may contain victims and saying “hey, everyone, come look at this”.

Since the images are geotagged, it doesn’t matter which images they look at.

Video generally isn’t helpful because of lower resolution and fuzziness when you try to pause.

Victims may be covered in mud and buried in debris so clumps large enough to contain a body may be put on the list for investigation by a ground team