June 20, 2019

High-Tech Damage Assessment Speeds Disaster Recovery

PNNL-developed solution utilized in hurricanes, earthquakes and recent Midwest flooding 

Mississippi River Flooding Analysis 2019

Flooding on the Missouri River south of Omaha, Nebraska, on March 18, 2019, as seen by PNNL’s image-based analytics tool for providing detailed damage assessments of critical energy infrastructure during disasters.

When disaster strikes – whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or this spring’s severe flooding in the Midwest -- emergency responders and disaster recovery teams can do their jobs more effectively if they have timely and accurate damage assessments. What areas are flooded? Which roads are impassable? Where are trees downed? What do the patterns of debris or rubble tell us?

Quickly understanding what the landscape reveals about damage to critical energy infrastructure allows responders to accelerate restoration of service and enhances safety for crews in the field.

Making it possible

To meet this need, PNNL has developed a unique suite of tools that utilize satellite imagery to generate timely damage assessments with revealing detail. The team’s analyses draw upon a broad range of resources, including traditional optical satellites; radar satellites, which can see through clouds and darkness to capture detailed images of the Earth; and multispectral imagery, including infrared and ultraviolet imagery that the human eye cannot capture.

PNNL scientists and engineers roll this analysis up into detailed assessments of damage or likely damage to energy infrastructure and make it available quickly to DOE leadership, including the Cybersecurity, Energy Security & Emergency Response (CESER) office, as well as responders in the field, via a secure web link.

The information enables disaster response leadership and field personnel to more effectively prioritize and plan restoration efforts and to determine how to safely access specific locations. Faster restoration of energy infrastructure and services not only accelerates recovery, it also saves lives.

Nationwide impact

Most recently, PNNL provided crucial information about the severe flooding in the Midwest this spring. PNNL also delivered critical insights into the 2018 Anchorage earthquake (Alaska); hurricanes Michael (Florida and Georgia), Florence (North and South Carolina), Lane (Hawaii); and, in 2017, hurricanes Maria (Puerto Rico) and Irma (Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia).

Across these many settings, emergency response teams reported that the data from PNNL was vital in planning and prioritizing restoration efforts and also helped keep field crews safe. 

Not only that, PNNL performs these assessments in a fraction of the time that it takes to do traditional damage assessment methods such as flyovers, “windshield surveys,” self-reporting, and GIS modeling. PNNL typically delivers a highly detailed, localized analysis within five to eight hours of receipt of satellite imagery. And with each event, PNNL improves the processing workflow and the algorithms involved to deliver more accurate analysis more quickly.

While this spring’s Midwest flooding is subsiding, the project team anticipates no letup in demand for these assessments. In May the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its 2019 Atlantic hurricane season outlook, predicting 9-15 named storms and 4-8 hurricanes impacting the nation.


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science. For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Published: June 20, 2019