Saturday, November 27

Drones, Google Earth and geopositioning: technology to assess damage when a volcano destroys everything | Digital Transformation | Technology


Technicians from the National Geographic Institute doing photogrammetry before the eruption, on September 18, in Jedey, La Palma.
Technicians from the National Geographic Institute doing photogrammetry before the eruption, on September 18, in Jedey, La Palma.BORJA SUAREZ / Reuters

Any. That is what will remain of some of the 600 buildings that have been hit by the lava from the Cumbre Vieja volcano, La Palma, during the ten days that it has been erupting. The only hope for those affected is the compensation that they may receive either from the Insurance Compensation Consortium – since most companies do not cover this type of force majeure event – or from the Government, after the declaration of a catastrophic zone. The damage assessment started in the first moment, but no one knows when it may come to an end. Technology will be key in this task: drones, satellite geopositioning or images taken by Google Earth over the years will be some of the tools that experts will use to find out what was there where there is no longer anything and to be able to assess the damage.

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Experts from the Insurance Compensation Consortium of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation deal with natural disasters in Spain, such as floods or earthquakes; But, unlike other disasters, the main characteristic of a volcanic eruption like the one suffered by La Palma is that the lava destroys everything that was there as it moves through the terrain. Fernando Muñoz, president of the Association of Insurance Experts and Breakdown Commissioners, explains that “ the problem is the identification of the remains, which in many cases are non-existent, in addition to the fact that the state of the land itself will prevent the approach ( of professionals). Indirect data will have to be collected, through other sources. ”

This approach to the terrain will be facilitated, in part, thanks to the use of drones, although, for the moment, the situation does not allow them to be used: ” Right now it is prohibited, but, when possible, we will be subject to the same legislation. than any company ”, in terms of what type of drones can be used and who can handle them. Arturo López-Linares, claims director at AXA, explains that “it is about putting eyes where human beings cannot see. We use them regularly and they allow us to take high definition images (even in 4K), fix a perimeter, check materials or detect hot areas in a fire, for example. ” In addition to providing agility and speed to the process, drones help the expert do not have to take risks.

To collect indirect data, without having to physically reach the place, the experts have other technological tools, apart from those small ships. On the one hand, something as familiar to internet users as Google Earth or Maps allows you to choose a specific date in a history where you can observe the changes in the orography and urban planning and, therefore, know the state of the area on dates recent, before the volcano erupted, in order to know what was in each place.

The church of Todoque, in a Google Maps image before the volcano erupted and while it was knocked down by the lava.
The church of Todoque, in a Google Maps image before the volcano erupted and while it was knocked down by the lava.

The problem for the owners would be not having any part of their property declared, not even in the cadastre. For example, a winery. But, even in those cases, it would be enough if they had “from an invoice to a photo in which grandmother is seen lowering a tray at Christmas dinner” to prove it, explains Muñoz.

In addition to Google Earth, experts can use geopositioning, location through satellite navigation systems above all. Once the expert is on the ground and at the exact coordinates where the house was located, he can check the current state and check if, for example, it has been buried by lava. “As the destruction is total, there will be no doubt,” insists López-Linares. For this reason, in the case of AXA, for a situation like La Palma, it would not resort to this method in the first place, which “is not going to add data either” and which the use of the drone can more than make up for.

The president of the Association of Experts believes that, in the case of this eruption, the difficulty is not in the number of claims (at the moment there are about 600 properties affected, compared to the thousands of requests that were made after the earthquake of 2011 in Lorca, Murcia), but rather on the severity of the damage, the difficulty of proving it and the obstacles to accessing the area even with drones.

The evaluation of each specific case is managed by a professional and, as a general rule, a claim can be resolved in one or two weeks. The time that the volcano continues to cause damage will determine the period that the experts continue working in the area. Not counting the work of the insurance companies, which come into play after the damage assessment. At the moment, the Insurance Compensation Consortium has established that there is no ” no maximum period to present the request for compensation for the damages suffered ”, given the difficulties that those affected will have in “accessing the necessary documentation.”

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