Drones for Assessment of Disaster Damage and Impact - Revolutionizing Disaster Response

Blog by Duong Van Hung, UNDP Disaster Risk Reduction Programme Analyst

May 20, 2023

Disaster forecast in 2023: fewer but more extreme storms

According to the the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecast, Viet Nam is expected to face 12-14 strong storms and tropical depressions in the East Sea, of which 4-6 storms will affect its mainland. As rainfall increases, the Central Region faces an elevated risk of heavy rains,  leading to floods and inundation. Recognizing the potential severity, the Government of Viet Nam has called upon all ministries and local authorities to be prepared to respond and provide life-saving assistance to affected households. In this context of heightened disaster risks, the utilization of drones for efficient and accurate assessment of disaster damage has emerged as a transformative solution, revolutionizing how we respond to crises.

Damage reports: fast, accurate, and evidence-based

The experience of major and large-scale disasters has proved that human resources are often over-stretched to directly assess and quickly consolidate damage in all villages. Meanwhile, the Government, provincial People's Committees, the press agencies, and the public at large often request to be updated with information quickly, accurately, and evidence-based.

In particular, the Government often requests provincial People's Committees to undertake a rapid damage assessment that provides an overview of the situation at those deepest flooded points, the most damaged locations, or inaccessible villages. This is where drones prove invaluable. By rapidly capturing aerial imagery and data, drones provide comprehensive and evidence-based damage reports, giving a clear overview of the most affected areas and inaccessible regions.

Drones for Disaster Damage Assessment: A Game-Changing Tool 

The use of drones to assess damage after disasters has been adopted by many countries. Drones have proven their outstanding strength when assessing damage to facilities, houses, fields, and the likes after storms, floods and other disasters. Drones also provide concrete and clear evidence immediately after the assessment. In Viet Nam, UNDP has equipped drones and organized drone training courses for six central provinces from 2022. Each province has set up a group of provincial experts who are regularly updated and provided with technical support. These drones enable experts to assess damage to infrastructure, houses, fields, and more with unparalleled efficiency. The immediate and concrete evidence collected by drones facilitates accurate analysis and informed decision-making.

Ensuring Gender and Inclusive Perspectives in Damage Assessment

To assess disaster damage from a gender and inclusive perspective, UNDP, in collaboration with the National Steering Committee for Disaster Prevention and Control and UN Women, organized a training course on assessing of damage and impacts of disasters from a gender and inclusive perspective using drones.

The training course focused on practical contents. As a result, the trainees clearly understood how to use the drone according to the survey plan, assigned concrete tasks, and understood how to analyze information. Based on the information and aerial imagery collected, the trainees could make an assessment of the percentage of house damage. In particular, the trainees knew in-depth analysis of specific damage, for example on roof, wall/frame/structure, percent of houses flooded in the village, percent of houses completely collapsed. 

In addition, as the trainees obtained the list of the most vulnerable households in the commune, they would be able to make a survey plan to assess the damage of these households. For example, they could survey and understand damage suffered by the elderly households, disabled households, households with young children, and families with diseases.

In particular, UNDP and UN Women experts showed how to use drones to learn the damage of household items. When flying at a low altitute, drones would detect damaged blankets, clothes, cooking utensils ... of the people. Drones could also survey temporary shelters and evacuation points. Aerial imagery could indicate the current status of temporary shelters (are shelters fitted with doors; are there separate toilets for men and women; are they safe for children; are they able to protect health and dignity of the households). 

Sharing Lessons Learned and Collaborating with ASEAN Partners

Southeast Asia is a region that frequently experiences storms and floods. According to the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response action plan, Viet Nam is an active member who often shares its good practices. The lessons learned from using drones to assess damage from a gender and inclusive perspective can contribute significantly to the disaster response efforts of countries in the region. Furthermore, this year, Viet Nam has a vital role of chair of the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management, sharing initiatives and innovative solutions in disaster response, and collaborating with United Nations organizations to strengthen regional disaster management capabilities.

Commitment to Leave No One Behind

Honored to be one of the United Nations agencies making significant contributions to disaster management in Viet Nam, UNDP, and its partners have completed the construction of over 5,000 storm-resilient houses in the central region. UNDP also worked with coastal communities to regenerate thousands of hectares of coastal mangrove forests, repair and rebuild more than 3,000 houses, organize trainings, and provide early warning equipment for disaster-prone communes. The Certificate of Merit from the Government is a testament to the contributions of UNDP in this area.

UNDP is on the ground with a team of construction engineers and extensive partners in the Central Region. With our capacities and resources, UNDP is ready to accompany the Government, ministries, and localities to respond and provide emergency assistance to poor, near-poor households should there be a need, ensuring that no one is left behind. By harnessing the potential of drones and leveraging collaborative efforts, we can collectively strengthen our capacity to face the mounting challenges of disasters and build a more resilient future for all.