Drones for disaster response in Mozambique

Mozambique’s national disaster management agency and the University of Portsmouth are working with international partners on research into the effectiveness of drone technology for post-disaster search and rescue missions in Mozambique.

With the vastness of the Indian ocean as its eastern neighbour, Mozambique’s struggles with natural disasters have been well documented. Recently, the southern African nation has been ravaged by successive tropical cyclones that destroyed people and property on the Mozambican coastline and beyond – even going to the extend of extensively damaging infrastructure in landlocked countries like Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

But now Portsmouth University, along with then Mozambique’s National Disaster Management Agency (INGD), the United Nation’s World Food Programme and the UK Institute of Search and Technical Rescue and are hoping to expedite disaster recovery efforts by flying drones to find targets both on land and in the water.

“The experiment involved many types of drones – both fixed-wing and quadcopter – looking for targets on land and in water, with simultaneous flights over multiple sites,” the university said in a statement. “For a situational overview of the drone test area, the Portsmouth team provided imagery from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 radar satellite and the PlanetScope micro-satellite constellation, as well as elevation data from the Japanese-American PALSAR radar satellite.”

The University’s Global Earth Model (GEM) group provided expertise in coding and Big Data analytics, to produce a prototype app for faster interpretation of drone images, enabling more effective locating of people in need of post-disaster assistance.

Professor Richard Teeuw of the University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Applied Geosciences, who led the university team said; “This was one of the largest experiments ever conducted into the effectiveness of drones for wide-area searches. The team were able to apply expertise developed during NERC-funded fieldwork into the impacts of Hurricane Maria in Dominica and research into coastal risk mapping carried out during the ongoing CommonSensing project, funded by the International Partnership Programme of the UK Space Agency.”

Toby Meredith, from the University’s Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, provided support for the drone experiment and the onsite World Food Programme media communications office.

“Due to the size of the experiment, the logistics of deploying multiple drones was very complex,” Meredith said. “The University team played a key role in the drone deployment and processing of the ensuing aerial photos, for over 30 drone flights.”


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