A tool for rapid post-hurricane urban tree debris estimates using high resolution aerial imagery
Coastal communities in the southeast United States have regularly experienced severe hurricane impacts. To better facilitate recovery efforts in these communities following natural disasters, state and federal agencies must respond quickly with information regarding the extent and severity of hurricane damage and the amount of tree debris volume. A tool was developed to detect downed trees and debris volume to better aid disaster response efforts and tree debris removal. The tool estimates downed tree debris volume in hurricane affected urban areas using a Leica Airborne Digital Sensor (ADS40) and very high resolution digital images. The tool employs a Sobel edge detection algorithm combined with spectral information based on color filtering using 15 different statistical combinations of spectral bands. The algorithm identified downed tree edges based on contrasts between tree stems, grass, and asphalt and color filtering was then used to establish threshold values. Colors outside these threshold values were replaced and excluded from the detection processes. Results were overlaid and an “edge line” was placed where lines or edges from longer consecutive segments and color values within the threshold were met. Where two lines were paired within a very short distance in the scene a polygon was drawn automatically and, in doing so, downed tree stems were detected. Tree stem diameter–volume bulking factors were used to estimate post-hurricane tree debris volumes. Images following Hurricane Ivan in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008 were used to assess the error of the tool by comparing downed tree counts and subsequent debris volume estimates with post-hurricane photo-interpreted downed tree counts and actual field measured estimates of downed tree debris volume. The errors associated with the use of the tool and potential applications are also presented.
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