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‘LiDAR data is pivotal in disaster mitigation’

Dr. Engr. Enrico C. Paringit
Dr. Engr. Enrico C. Paringit
(Consultant for Department of Science and Technology)
Associate Professor
Department of Geodetic Engineering
University of the Philippines

The Philippine government is investing approximately USD 38 million in DREAM programme. Dr. Engr. Enrico C. Paringit explains how LiDAR data is being used in this programme.

Please brief us about the Disaster Risk and Exposure Assessment for Mitigation (DREAM) programme in Philippines. What is its current status?
The DREAM programme is a 2-year project of the University of the Philippines. It is supported by the ‘Grant-in-Aid’ programme of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). It aims to generate and provide spatial information to help disaster mitigation efforts. It generates flood hazard information from high-resolution elevation data for different purposes like early warning, spatial planning and infrastructure intervention.

We are now at a stage of developing the capacity to process the LiDAR data and generate the flood models through series of training and procurement of equipments. The two LiDAR sensors we ordered are due for delivery next month so we may start acquisition soon after that. With everything in place, we should be operational before the end of the year.

What led to the idea of DREAM initiative, using LiDAR technology?
There are two primary reasons for coming up with the DREAM initiative. The first is the need to address the pressing concerns on disasters and second is the attraction towards the rapidly maturing LiDAR technology.

In the past few years, most of the catastrophic events happening in the country are caused by severe flooding. In recent times, most of the disaster events occurred in December 2012, which killed over 1200 people and left utter destruction to property and infrastructure. One of the gaps that we identified from these series of disasters was the lack of proper information to guide disaster managers to better prepare for onslaught of impending and potential flood hazards. We also noticed that most of the information are hinged on reliable elevation products. This is especially necessary in flood plains that have very subtle topography and yet are highly urbanised.

As for the choice of LiDAR technology, we looked at the worldwide trend. We saw that the best source of elevation data products were being derived from airborne LiDAR sensors. The way, it is developing especially in the past decade, it became a logical choice for us in meeting our requirements.

Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) technology also is being used in this project. Why did you feel the need of InSAR data?
There is a standing commitment to provide an early warning for flooding events. To be able to accomplish this task, we need to generate an up-to-date digital elevation model (DEM), accurate enough to perform hydrologic modelling at a significantly reduced amount of time. The model will be used to simulate water discharge which in turn becomes an input to flood modelling.

While LiDAR might be accurate in terms of defining the possible extent of inundation in the flood plains, a relatively coarse DEM can be used to assess the topography of the watersheds. The discharge routed in watershed from actual and simulated rainfall scenarios can then be used for early warning in case a heavy rainfall is imminent. The choice of DEM based on SAR data, be it through interferometric or radagrammetric techniques, is desirable because of the ability of radar, to be weather- and illumination (from sunlight)- independence, ensuring completion of DEM generation in a relatively shorter period.

Which companies are helping you in this project with technical supports?
We are happy to note that companies who are industry leaders in the field of LiDAR mapping technology are supporting our cause. Optech, Inc. (Canada) will supply the LiDAR sensors. We got the Terrasolid (Finland) suite for processing the point cloud data. The ISIS suite of Halcrow is used for our river and flood modelling needs.

We are expecting technical assistance from the United Kingdom Environment Agency (UK EA). The UK EA has a long and extensive experience in flood hazard assessment and mapping using LiDAR technology. We are happy to be having formed this cooperation with them and learn from their experience.

What is the total budget for DREAM project and who are the sponsors?
The total appropriated budget for the DREAM is about Php1.6 billion (approx USD 38 million) distributed in five project components – data acquisition, processing, validation, application and training. The funding comes directly from the national government. A few people may be surprised to learn that there are no direct foreign grants or loans involved in this project. You could say that we also wanted to be self-sufficient in meeting our challenges when it comes to disaster mitigation.

As a Professor, during the DREAM project, did you feel that there is lack of skilled resources in Philippines? If so, what measures should be taken by Philippine government/universities to enhance capacity building in the country?
The University of Philippines is producing very few but knowledgeable, highly-skillled geomatics professionals. There are concerns that their potentials remain unmet because of very scarce opportunities locally that match their skills. The DREAM was a good chance for us to provide this chance for our graduates to reach their full potentials and shine in their chosen field.

Even then, we have to fill some of the gaps in skills needed for the project. That is why one vital component in the DREAM programme is training. Our science and technical personnel in the project were trained on the skills need to accomplish tasks in different stages of the project, from acquisition to application. We expect that through this capacity building efforts, we will be able to encourage the industry to participate actively, especially outside the traditional realms of land and infrastructure surveys. We foresee that there will be a greater demand for surveying and mapping professionals, but this time, focused on meeting information requirements of disaster mitigation.

The fact that the core of the project activities are being undertaken within the university environment ensures that there will be a continuous supply of skilled geomatics professionals whom we envision to be leaders, not only in the geomatics industry but also in disaster science and management, in a few years” time.