AI Case Study

US FEMA estimates building damage caused by volcano eruptions using satellite imagery and convolutional neural networks

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to estimate building and structure damage caused by volcanoes on Hawaii. This was achieved by combining lava flow information with satellite imagery using convolutional neural networks to identify buildings. The analysis served as the starting point for relief assistance efforts.


Public And Social Sector

Public Services

Project Overview

"Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been getting insight into the buildings and infrastructure affected by the stream of molten rock with the help of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. By analyzing satellite images of the area around the volcano and combining that information with property ownership data, officials can determine which buildings have been damaged and whether people are evacuating ahead of the lava's approach... FEMA reached out to the lab on May 9 because it had information on parcel locations but not building footprints.

ORNL receives its satellite images from DigitalGlobe, a satellite imaging and analysis company. Researchers then sharpen and adjust the images for perspective and select segments to help train a convolutional neural network that allows them to rapidly extract information from the images about buildings and other structures. The number of segments needed to train a neural network depends on the size of the area researchers want to model and the diversity of the landscape within that area. Before deep learning, the process was done with basic segmentation, but it was difficult for researchers to generalize the data to a larger area... As ORNL researchers run the model and find the structures in a given area, they send the data to FEMA, which uses Esri's GIS tools to combine it with information on the location of the lava and evacuation boundaries."

Reported Results

"Oak Ridge National Laboratory staff were able to extract building footprints for structures, at first starting around the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens area within the first week and then for most of the Big Island within two weeks." Combining the building information with the laval flow data, FEMA was able to estimate the number of buildings damaged as well as determine the value of the structures affected. This was also a starting point to identify potential recipients for disaster relief.






"The Kilauea volcano in Hawaii began erupting in early May and has been doing so continuously since May 27, spewing lava across the Big Island and damaging more than 700 homes. Although there is a chance it could slow down or stop, it's more likely that the flow will continue, according to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. The lava from Kilauea has already had a devastating impact on residences, businesses, schools and hospitals."



Satellite imagery provided by DigitalGlobe