Drone mapping tech changes disaster assessments


Over the last few months the Northstate has experienced some of the worst wildfires in California history. But in the wake of these disasters, new drone mapping technology has emerged and redefined the way emergency personnel access the damaged areas and communicate with the public.

Devon Hedemark, Geographic Information System expert with the city of Redding helped map both the Carr Fire and Camp Fire burn scar areas using drone technology and computer programming.

He says it all starts with a series of 360 degree images taken by drones deployed by a special group of public safety unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) teams.

Those drones then send back image files with the latitude and longitude of where each one was taken.

These images are then stitched together by Hangar, an online program used by the city to create a more complete perspective of the damage.

"Aside from obviously using it to do damage assessment for the city, the public's interested in it. They want to see what their neighborhoods look like. The beauty of this kind of technology is that it can be deployed fairly quickly. And we can have these kind of images out to the public within 24 to 48 hours," Hedemark explained.

After the data and images are assessed, people like Hedemark can then release the information to the public on an interactive website that allows everyone to see vital information about the status of their homes or neighborhoods more rapidly than ever before.

"You see the value of something like this to provide it to your family members and help share what's going on in your community and have some sort of piece of mind hopefully that their house is still there," said Hedemark.

Hedemark knows the importance of the programming all too well after he lost his own home to the Carr Fire in July.

"It was after work and we noticed that the smoke was getting closer, the winds kind of started to come our direction and I think those were the times we recognized that there was something going on and that this was pretty bad," said Hedemark.

He and his wife were living in the River Ridge subdivision the night the Carr Fire hit the city, forcing them to escape down a busy road with little time to spare.

But as the chaos and confusion of that night settled, Hedemark was able to use drone mapping technology to assess the damage to his own neighborhood, giving him the chance to understand the disaster from both sides.

"Where you experience it and have a loss but then it was also nice to be able to help from the data side to help others in the community who are experiencing a similar event," said Hedemark.

While he admits it's been hard for he and his wife, he's just glad the program will be able to provide more rapid information to people like himself in the future.

"It's important to move forward. And I think that what I've seen that's great about the community is that folks come together and look to rebuild."

Since the Carr Fire Hedemark has also consulted for the Camp Fire in Butte County, lending his drone mapping experience to their experts as they began the damage assessment and clean-up process.

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