Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, are an unpreventable component of the complex and changing environment we live in. Continued research and advancement in disaster mitigation through prediction of and preparation for impacts have undoubtedly saved many lives and prevented significant amounts of damage, but it is inevitable that some events will cause destruction and loss of life due to their sheer magnitude and proximity to built-up areas. Consequently, development of effective and efficient disaster response methodologies is a research topic of great interest.

A successful emergency response is dependent on a comprehensive understanding of the scenario at hand. It is crucial to assess the state of the infrastructure and transportation network, so that resources can be allocated efficiently. Obstructions to the roadways are one of the biggest inhibitors to effective emergency response. To this end, airborne and satellite remote sensing platforms have been used extensively to collect overhead imagery and other types of data in the event of a natural disaster. The ability of these platforms to rapidly probe large areas is ideal in a situation where a timely response could result in saving lives. Typically, imagery is delivered to emergency management officials who then visually inspect it to determine where roads are obstructed and buildings have collapsed. Manual interpretation of imagery is a slow process and is limited by the quality of the imagery and what the human eye can perceive.

In order to overcome the time and resource limitations of manual interpretation, this dissertation inves- tigated the feasibility of performing fully automated post-disaster analysis of roadways and buildings using airborne remote sensing data. First, a novel algorithm for detecting roadway debris piles from airborne light detection and ranging (lidar) point clouds and estimating their volumes is presented. Next, a method for detecting roadway flooding in aerial imagery and estimating the depth of the water using digital elevation models (DEMs) is introduced. Finally, a technique for assessing building damage from airborne lidar point clouds is presented. All three methods are demonstrated using remotely sensed data that were collected in the wake of recent natural disasters.

The research presented in this dissertation builds a case for the use of automatic, algorithmic analysis of road networks and buildings after a disaster. By reducing the latency between the disaster and the delivery of damage maps needed to make executive decisions about resource allocation and performing search and rescue missions, significant loss reductions could be achieved.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Natural disasters--Remote sensing; Roads--Remote sensing; Buildings--Remote sensing; Remote sensing--Data processing

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Imaging Science (Ph.D.)

Department, Program, or Center

Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science (COS)


Jan van Aardt

Advisor/Committee Member

David Ross

Advisor/Committee Member

David Messinger


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes