Researchers propose using Google Street View to assess disaster damage

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Researchers at University of Southampton have proposed using Google Street View to assess the damage caused by disasters and to improve resistance against future events.

For the study, researchers used images taken before and after the 2011 Japan earthquake to assess the impacts on buildings from the devastating T?hoku tsunami, which hit the east coast of Honshu, Japan. They compared images from two Japanese cities, Ishinomaki, on a coastal plain, and Ofunato, on a ‘ria’ coastline with steep coastal valleys.

The ‘after’ images were taken by Google Street View cars over a six-month period starting four months after the tsunami. Images were compiled with those taken before the event to produce an accessible digital archive to allow comparison of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ situations.

‘After’ images were used to identify the material and form of structures that remained standing, which were logged by location and graded on a damage scale. Buildings that could be used for sheltering and siting of structures to serve as vertical evacuation centres were also assessed.

While these images are not in any way replacement of field surveys to assess damage, the provide a means for researchers to create an online archive and collaborate to extend understanding about damages, types of buildings that can withstand a particular disaster and how best can damage be prevented in future.

“Although such online images cannot completely replace field surveys, they have the potential to exploit an untapped resource of researchers around the world, who can then collaborate with local engineers to learn lessons and improve tsunami resistance of vulnerable coastal communities”, said Study co-author Dr Alan Bloodworth, Lecturer in Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton.

“We found that much of what is observable in the field is also visible in the online archive. The Google Street View cars created a new resource for remote assessment of structural performance, quantitatively by type and location and qualitatively for beneficial design features, such as sheltering by trees and other buildings”, he added.