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MCEER Earthquake Reconnaissance Investigation


In terms of human cost, the Bam earthquake ranks as the worst recorded disaster in Iranian history; a tragic statistic in a nation already ranked as the World’s 4th most disaster prone country (IFRC, 2004a). Although Bam itself had no prior record of significant earthquake damage, within the surrounding 100km, during the 50-year period from 1948-1998, 14 earthquakes were recorded measuring magnitude 5 or greater on the Richter scale (Eshghi and Zare, 2003). Within the nation as a whole, the 20th century saw 65 major events (magnitude =6.0), claiming 126,000 Iranian lives (for further details, see Berberian, 2004). According to historic records, earthquakes have razed other cities, including Tabriz, Ray and Nishapur (Berberian, 1997). Such devastation and massive loss of life is largely attributable to poor construction methods in a society where it is traditional for people to build their own homes. According to (F. Naiem, cited in Online NewsHour, 2004), building codes have proved difficult to enforce for modern structures, and are largely absent for older dwellings.

Post-earthquake Urban Damage Detection

A United Nations damage assessment team estimated that 90% of buildings in Bam sustained 60-100% damage (WFP, 2003) - some 25,000 of the 29,500 structures within the city center and surrounding villages (UN, 2004). The remaining 10% of building stock recorded 40-60% damage. Figure 2b through Figure 2f illustrate the nature and extent of damage: annihilation across entire city blocks; the historic city center and fortress in ruins; the main hospitals effectively destroyed, together with 94 health homes, 14 rural and 10 urban health centers; and 131 schools and 3 universities severely damaged (IFRC, 2004b).

In the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, experiences from the 2003 Algeria (Adams et al., 2003a, 2003b) and 1999 Turkey events (Eguchi et al., 2003) have demonstrated that satellite images could make a significant contribution to post-earthquake damage assessment. Remote sensing coverage acquired by earth-orbiting satellites offers a birds-eye view of urban damage. Today, commercial satellites provide a close-up view of family houses, or tents used for temporary housing. This makes them an excellent tool for seeking out the hardest hit areas and monitoring the progress of recovery efforts.

Through MCEER funding, considerable effort has been invested in developing automated building damage detection methods, together with techniques for visualizing damage. The Bam earthquake marks their first deployment as a post-earthquake reconnaissance tool, within the VIEWS (Visualizing the Impacts of Earthquakes using Remote Sensing Images) system.


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