Citizen scientist app accelerates disaster relief response

Posted 10 May 2017

Damage after hurricaneResearchers are testing a new system that allows the general public to assist in disaster relief efforts by identifying damage using real-time mapping software. 

The team of researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) developed an app to accelerate disaster relief efforts by linking volunteers to communities in need, said IIASA researcher Olha Danylo, who presented the work at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly (EGU). 

“Our goal is to provide a simple way for people to help disaster response efforts. At the same time, the app could help raise public awareness of natural disasters,” she said. 

The program utilises a redesigned version of the Picture Pile app, which uses satellite imagery to provide a platform for volunteers to distinguish between two photos to assess where there is damage and to what degree. 

Researchers are inviting the general public to test out the app for the next few weeks using data from Hurricane Matthew and satellite images of its effects in the Caribbean in 2016. 

Users can process images by noting where they see damage to buildings, a task that is easy for humans but difficult to program into computers.

The test run will allow researchers to analyse the app’s functionality and determine the quality of data being provided by volunteers, allowing them to make improvements before the program is used in a real disaster relief situation, said IIASA researcher Steffen Fritz.

“This is kind of like a fire drill; when a disaster occurs, it’s important that we are able to respond quickly, that the app and data collection run smoothly, and that we know what quality of data to expect,” he said. 

“The idea of this project is to help provide an initial damage assessment so that help can quickly reach those who need it.”

Users can test out the program on desktops, iPhones or Google devices