Natural disasters leave behind mounds of debris, wreaking havoc on lives, property, infrastructure, and the environment. Recovery from a disaster happens in stages, with each piece building on the next.

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Clearing Debris: One of the Most Critical Tasks Following a Disaster

One of the first and most critical tasks following any disaster event is to clear debris:
  • From roadways to ensure that emergency response and evacuation can occur—eventually leading to normal transportation operations
  • From streams, rivers, and beaches to prevent potential health and safety hazards
  • To remove the visible reminder of the disaster, avoiding detrimental impacts on residents and visitors

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Debris Estimation Pilot

In New Jersey, beaches and waterways are major contributors to the state's economy. As we've seen after Superstorm Sandy, having them unavailable due to storm debris is damaging to the state's coastal livelihood. Understanding the nature and amount of debris left from Superstorm Sandy is critical to being able to quickly remove it.

Over the past five years, debris removal operations following a disaster have accounted for more than 40 percent of total disaster recovery costs. This significant cost, combined with the importance of debris removal, requires the need to better estimate debris quantities early in the response period.

After Superstorm Sandy, Dewberry worked with FEMA under our NISTAC Joint Venture to test a new method using the best available resources to produce accurate estimates for debris volumes. As part of this initiative, an application was developed based on geospatial technology incorporating all sources into a scalable and iterative tool to produce debris quantity estimates. These estimates begin as modeled data early in the response phases, evolving to actual data within weeks.

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The Debris Estimator Tool was used after Superstorm Sandy in eight New Jersey counties. Results are pending since the actual totals are still being finalized. Accurate debris estimates will help these communities better understand the magnitude of their recovery efforts.

In next week's blog, we'll discuss the next step in disaster recovery: assessing damage of a structure, and how technology can help expedite this process.