Saturday, October 15, 2011

Nargis Cyclone and Geo-Spatial Emergency Response for Burma's Delta Region

Geospatial Technological Applications for Emergency Responses for Nargis Cyclone Victims
After Nargis Cycloned smashed Delta area of Lower Burma (Myanmar), the United Nations (UN) was aware of Burma’s transportation and communication systems being broken. The Rapid Mapping, Applications and User Relations of UNOSAT, and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Programme knew that the concerns and questions about what’s happening in the storm impacted areas could be relatively answered by using geospatial technologies. The UNOSAT contacted Geographic Information System Corps (GISCorps) of the United States, and submitted a request for volunteers. 
On May 9, 2008, GISCorps recruited 11 Geographic Information System/Remote Sensing (GIS/RS) volunteers from the US, Canada, Cyprus, and Germany. Using geo-spatial Google Earth™ environment, the volunteers performed change detection Analysis for various features such as roads, bridges, buildings, villages, monasteries, etc.  A total of 6,500 features were collected. The volunteers compared the pre-disaster and post-disaster satellite imageries provided by Google™.  On May 21, 2008, 22 GISCorps volunteers from Taiwan, USA, Canada, Norway and Germany collected 54,000 features in this second phase.  Buildings and monasteries were detected from the pre-disaster satellite imageries. (

For processing and analysis of pre- and post-cyclone images by the GISCorps volunteers were made possible by Google Earth™, converted data furnished by the US Government through the Pacific Disaster Centre, the best possible imagery available from the major vendors, and Google™ and UN connected personnel with expertise in remote sensing. ( /index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=74&Itemid=63)
On May 21, 2008, 22 GISCorps volunteers from Taiwan, USA, Canada, Norway and Germany collected 54,000 features in this second phase.  Buildings and monasteries were detected from the pre-disaster satellite imageries.

Burmese Communities' Participation
The author was fortunate to volunteer with GISCorps.  The mission was set to collect specific features on the satellite imageries fast and furious rate – digitizing as many points as possible in seven to ten days.  Granted by the GISCorps leadership to give input to their decision making process, I pointed out about key element for assemble points of the flood/storm victims in data collection – the monasteries and pagodas.  We, the Burmese, know that pagodas (stupas) are visible in any geographical environment because they are tall structures, and commonly built on the higher grounds.   Villagers and urbanites alike seek shelters at the Buddhist monasteries when they need help.  The GISCorps kindly allowed me to spearhead on digitizing pagodas and monasteries in the cyclone impacted areas.  Another task assigned to us was to digitize each and every building in east Rangoon (Yangon).

Technically, it was a simple task on Google - tagging a pin (adding placemarks) on each feature such as a pagoda, building or monastery; but it was too many to digitize and so tedious.  Therefore, I took the liberty of recruiting additional volunteers within the Burmese community.  Thankfully, the challenge was taken up by Zarni Kyaw (Calgary, Canada), James Chao (San Francisco, USA), Linda Sue (Pleasanton, USA), and James Walker (Pleasanton, USA).  The group donated hundreds of hours in digitizing many thousands of points within the given time frame.   And, also thanks to Einar Bjorgo (UNOSAT), GISCorps members of the Board, and special thanks to the GISCorps volunteers on this project!
Note:  Each digitized point for assembly places (pagodas and monasteries) maintained Latitude and Longitude coordinates.  In the cyclone affected zone was flood and all means of transportation was broken down at that time.  This dataset on possible assembly points could have been most helpful in the efforts to rescue and provide emergency supplies by air drops.  We were appalled by the Burmese military regime’s refusal to accept international help and assistance while they barely helped the cyclone victims. 

The followings depict the images of before and after shots of villages affected by Nargis Cyclone (upper), and one example of the Damage Assessment Maps issued by the UNOSAT.

Credits:  The UN-UNOSAT, GISCorps, GISCorps Volunteers on 2008 Myanmar (Burma) Cyclone’s Mission, Zarni Kyaw (Canada), James Chao, Linda Sue, James Walker, the Google, and for all those photos posted in various websites.

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posted ~ November 30, 2010 by winners' circle
Reestablished this blog on October 15, 2011.


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