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Drones Assess the Aftermath of Indonesia’s Destructive Earthquake

Team Rubicon assists Indonesia’s Disaster Management Agency with real-time aerial insights

DroneDeploy
Nov 13, 2018 · 5 min read

On September 28, 2018, a major earthquake struck Sulawesi, an Indonesian island. The powerful quake triggered a tsunami that reached an estimated height of 6 meters (18 feet) along the shores of Sulawesi’s Gulf of Palu. The damage was catastrophic. In need of outside assistance, the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management asked Team Rubicon Australia to provide support. The nonprofit disaster-relief agency used drones to help Indonesian authorities assess damage and plan recovery operations.

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Responding to a Double Disaster

The magnitude 7.5 earthquake that shook Sulawesi immediately flattened buildings and caused liquefaction, leading to mudflows in two neighborhoods in Palu (population 330,000) that ripped apart houses, swallowed roads and buried people alive. The earthquake also set off a tsunami that sped down the horseshoe-shaped Gulf of Palu. Tall waves battered fishing villages along the way, reaching the city of Palu in about 3 minutes.

Government officials and first-responders faced a large-scale, time-sensitive challenge. They needed to assess damage, plan evacuation and other emergency responses, conduct search-and-rescue missions, and provide medical care and other aid to survivors as quickly as possible. However, the devastation caused by the two natural disasters had left Palu and surrounding areas extremely difficult to access.

Roads were clogged with debris, bridges were destroyed and the airport’s runway was severely damaged. Using ground crews to survey the widespread damage would take a significant amount of time and expose them to a variety of hazards. The government needed to find a speedier, safer solution.

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Providing a Helping Hand

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The National Agency for Disaster Countermeasure, or BNPB, turned to Team Rubicon Australia (TRA) for help. The nonprofit group is part of Team Rubicon Global, an international global disaster-response organization network powered by more than 80,000 well-trained volunteer military veterans who step in as first-responders to disasters worldwide. When they got the call, a TRA volunteer UAV Strike Team rushed to Palu.

Once on the ground, the The TRA team used drones to take aerial photos and videos given the destruction and inaccessible landscape. Led by Richard Adams, a highly skilled drone pilot with extensive military and civilian UAV experience, the drone crew concentrated on four key areas: two neighborhoods in Palu that had suffered the most earthquake damage and two settlements that the tsunami struck.

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To carry out its mission, the TRA team used DroneDeploy’s software platform. It made all aspects of the project — flight planning, flying, image processing and map analysis — easier, faster and more reliable. The platform was particularly helpful because the earthquake had knocked out internet service. The team was able to fly entirely offline and then compress the imagery and upload it later using a mobile hotspot and DroneDeploy’s turbo uploader feature.

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The images captured by the drone flights enabled the TRA crew to create aerial maps showing damage to buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The team then analyzed photographs and mapping data and cross-referenced them against existing satellite images and data. “Drone data provided higher resolution imagery than the satellite data, which was very useful when completing the analysis,” said Adams. With real-time maps in hand the team was able to provide insights when the local authorities needed them most.

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The team’s work helped drive relief efforts. Using TRA’s information, officials assessed damage quickly and made data-informed decisions the recovery process. By providing data-based estimates of destroyed housing, TRA’s data also helped to provide a clearer picture of how many displaced people were affected. TRA’s drone team is no longer in Palu, but its contribution is still producing results. Scientists and seismologists continue to use the team’s data to better understand the extent of the damage and the impact of the earthquake on the landscape.

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As an added benefit, the TRA team was able to collect data safely in the wake of the disaster. Neither TRA volunteers nor ground crews had to enter the damaged zones to make assessments. “We were able to access areas that were not accessible, from a safe distance,” said Adams.

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Making the World Better with Drones

The Palu earthquake and tsunami resulted in more than 2,000 fatalities and thousands of injuries, and they destroyed homes, businesses, government buildings, houses of worship and schools. It created a humanitarian crisis that needed immediate and effective emergency response. Drones played a vital role in the government’s response to the disaster.

UAVs and software applications like DroneDeploy are increasingly viewed as useful tools for industrial and commercial tasks. But as Team Rubicon’s experience in responding to the Palu disaster shows, drones also have an indispensable role to play in making the world better. Team Rubicon crews have incorporated drones into their relief missions and will continue to use them to provide vital images and data in disaster zones.

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For more information on Team Rubicon Australia, their story and current operations, visit www.teamrubiconaus.org

Where to Learn More

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

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