New method to assess damage from natural disasters

managers can make decisions based on a three-dimensional perspective of whatever they ask need.”

Eventually, Dannemiller said, the model will be available for every type of natural disaster, from hurricanes to tornadoes to wildfires, and any sort of naturally occurring wind event.

But the usefulness of the models and the drone flights won’t stop there. While it’s good to give cities and contractors more accurate estimates of the volume of debris, there is little like being able to view the devastation firsthand.

That is why Dannemiller and his fellow researchers are now developing a virtual reality environment using the same 3-D models, which would allow people to walk around in a disaster region to understand the extent of the damage beyond just pictures and video from television reports.

As an example, he said the team could map an area the size of the Texas Tech campus and develop the 3-D virtual reality model in about three days.

“Every building in the virtual environment would look like the actual building,” Dannemiller said. “You would see the same trees, the benches, the parks, the monuments, the statues, the flagpoles. We aim to make it so people can walk through that world, and see the extent of the devastation.”

Being able to see that devastation would not only give disaster planners a way to view debris, but it also would help them understand the totality of the disaster before they get there, so they are prepared and can offer assurances to families and business and avoid some of the colorful descriptions that tend to discourage those trying to pick up their lives in the wake.

Finally, a 3-D virtual reality model would be useful to policy makers and government agencies to show them not only the breadth of the destruction but, also, with subsequent flights, how quickly an area is recovering from the disaster.

“It is important to understand the societal and economic repercussions of pouring all this money into relief efforts. Where the money goes and where the people go is a very important part of understanding how we as a society should respond,” Dannemiller said.

“We aim to deliver an educational tool that allows people with to learn from these disasters so everyone, be they policy makers, first responders, city personnel, government employees or any member of the public simply willing to help, can see what the devastation is like before they arrive and can then focus their efforts on supporting the people and helping them rebuild.”