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The University of Southampton

Southampton scientists help new global initiative to assess Haiti earthquake damage

Published: 26 January 2010

Scientists from the University of Southampton joined a network of over 700 scientists and engineers from universities and other establishments across the world, to give their time over the weekend (23 and 24 January) to assess the impact of the Haiti earthquake.

Volunteers from the University’s Schools of Geography, Engineering Sciences and Electronics and Computer Science worked with the Surrey office of Californian research company ImageCat, to provide an accurate and comprehensive assessment of the extent of the devastation.

Professor Peter Atkinson, Head of the University’s School of Geography, comments: “In the wake of a devastating natural event such as the Haiti earthquake, a quick response is critical. The willingness of Southampton staff and students to contribute their expertise in remote sensing and GIS to help those on the ground was outstanding.”

On behalf of the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the Southampton experts joined colleagues from around the world in studying new very-high resolution aerial imagery of the earthquake area, to establish, in more detail, the number of buildings that have collapsed or are heavily damaged. Their findings are being used to inform the reconstruction programme, and will also be published by the World Bank.

This newly-created initiative, known as operation GEO-CAN (Global Earth Observation Catastrophe Assessment Network), is being coordinated worldwide by ImageCat.

An area of some 300 square kilometres has been divided up into squares, and numbers of squares allocated for damage assessment to each GEO-CAN expert. The aerial imagery they are studying shows high-resolution images of houses, public buildings, cars and vegetation, with detail that even shows the folds in tents in the temporary encampments. This is compared to imagery taken before the earthquake and buildings that have collapsed, or are heavily damaged, are mapped.

Dr Beverley Adams, Managing Director of ImageCat’s European Operations, adds: “GEO-CAN is unique. Nothing like this has existed before, bringing together so many experts willing to devote their time for the greater good of the Haitian people.”

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