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Airborne Optical Systems Testbed: FEMA Support of Puerto Rico's Recovery from Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on 20 September 2017. This catastrophic storm devastated the island with sustained winds of 155 mph and more than 37 inches of rainfall. As the recovery progressed into early 2018, MIT Lincoln Laboratory (MIT LL) was requested to provide support utilizing the Airborne Optical Systems Testbed, a state-of-the-art Geiger-mode (GM) LIDAR remote sensing platform capable of creating a high-resolution, three-dimensional model of the entire island. In 30 days, MIT LL collected the vast majority of Puerto Rico's 3,500 square miles, including the islands of Culebra and Vieques. Those data were then processed on the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Super Computer, generating three-dimensional data products that could be leveraged by FEMA to support site inspections. A significant level of effort was expended to establish methods for turning the amassed data into actionable products. For several months, MIT LL maintained a presence at the Joint Recovery Office (JRO), providing direct support to the Transportation Sector. Together, the Laboratory and FEMA JRO developed a workflow for using the collected GM-LIDAR data to conduct virtual site inspections of roadways damaged by flooding and landslides. MIT LL developed a training program for this workflow and delivered it to more than 100 staff at the JRO. Additional staff at MIT LL conducted virtual site inspections from the Laboratory in Lexington, MA. Efforts were made to leverage the collected data outside of the original scope, but a combination of factors led to mixed results. These factors included resistance on the part of FEMA staff and challenges with the actual data, such as horizontal georegistration and compatibility of the initially delivered data projections. Despite improvements made to the data, insertion of a vastly new technology into an already complex recovery proved very challenging.
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