Woolpert took these aerial images of Long Island, N.Y., to help assess damage from Superstorm Sandy

Woolpert took these aerial images of Long Island, N.Y., to help assess damage from Superstorm Sandy. (Photos courtesy of Woolpert Inc.)

Superstorm Sandy devastated the northeastern United States in October 2012, leaving death and destruction in its wake. According to a report by the National Hurricane Center, Sandy led to at least 147 deaths and caused more than $50 billion in damage. More than 15 months later, people still are recovering from the storm’s devastation, and many still are responding to its effects.

Surveyors, GIS specialists and many others in the geospatial community are among those who have answered the call to help. Woolpert, a design, infrastructure and geospatial firm, responded in the immediate aftermath of Sandy, and the company continues to assist in recovery efforts.

Immediately following the storm’s landfall, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contacted Woolpert to acquire LiDAR data of Fire Island, N.Y.—a larger barrier island that runs parallel to the south shore of Long Island—to assess changes to the shoreline and beach as well as to measure volumetric changes of the shorelines. Woolpert’s work, including its quick turnaround of data, earned the company several awards, including the LCDR Peter Johnson Best Practices Award, which recognizes achievements in LiDAR bathymetry and coastal mapping.

 “We acquired the data within 48 hours of landfall, and then we immediately processed the data and delivered to the USGS,” said John Gerhard, the photogrammetry project director at Woolpert. “From the USGS it went to a variety of end users, including the Army Corps (of Engineers) as well as quite a few users within USGS.”


International LiDAR Mapping Forum (ILMF) 2014 

• When: Feb. 17-19

• Where: Denver

• What: The three-day conference expo focuses on airborne, terrestrial and bathymetric LiDAR, with a particular emphasis on mobile mapping systems,
according to the ILMF website.

Gerhard will discuss Woolpert’s work in post-Sandy recovery efforts at the International LiDAR Mapping Forum (ILMF) in Denver on Feb. 17-19. In his presentation, he will look at the challenges Woolpert faced and explore the lessons learned on the projects.

In the initial project shortly after Sandy landfall, the USGS tasked Woolpert with acquiring tide-coordinating LiDAR data. The company worked quickly to process the data, and it worked with several government agencies, showing the positive aspects of collaboration between the private and public sectors in disaster relief.

Though the company received praise for its work, the project was not easy. “As far as challenges, you’re dealing with obviously weather,” Gerhard said. “Then when you mobilized to the site, you have to be concerned about logistics in regard to whether you’re going to be able to get aviation fuel, where you can park the plane, where your flight crew and survey crew can be staged from as far as having a motel and place to eat. That’s the challenge of mobilizing right after a storm.”

Since the initial project, Woolpert has taken on three other mapping tasks in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts to track the effects of Sandy. Gerhard said that the company is in the process of flying those tasks now, though poor weather at the end of 2013 has slowed some of the work. He estimates that the mission is 50 percent complete, and the rest will be finished when the snow melts.

The benefits, Gerhard believes, are numerous. The data will detect any changes to the beach profile and can be used to predict future storm surge predictions. “I think it’s going to be an excellent tool for looking at hurricane storm surges and sea-level rise as well,” Gerhard said.


Gerhard also believes the post-Sandy work will leave the geospatial community better prepared the next time disaster strikes. His company has learned lessons from Sandy and its other disaster response work. “I think in future events if it’s a weather event like a Sandy or an Irene or a large hurricane or storm, you can look at pre-staging your aircraft or survey crew,” Gerhard said. “You could fly them to a location that’s still safely outside the storm’s reach but then you’re ready to mobilize right to the project site once that storm passes.”

 In addition, Gerhard thinks there are better ways to handle data to make the turnaround quicker and more efficient. Cloud technology could become an important part of this type of work. In projects done after Hurricane Irene in 2011, Gerhard said data was shipped back and forth with hard drives. For Sandy, Gerhard said data was transferred with both hard drives and FTP servers. “I will probably look into better ways to deliver the data,” he said. “Whether it’s an online delivering or we’re shipping the data back and forth via FedEx. I think Web delivery or Cloud delivery is much more efficient than shipping hard drives around.”