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Annual Report

Changing the face of disaster relief

Dr. Shabnam Jabari

Postdoctoral fellow Dr. Shabnam Jabari is developing technology that promises to be a game changer for government aid organizations and first responders around the world.

In 2003, a disastrous earthquake struck the southern Iranian city of Bam while Dr. Jabari was studying at the University of Tehran. The 6.6-magnitude quake devastated the city. Homes were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were killed – including the family member of a friend – in the earthquake.

Inspired to make a difference in the face of tragedy, she began exploring how satellite images could be used to detect regions affected by earthquakes.

Previous technology required aerial photography and satellite images to be reviewed manually and automatic scans were limited to images taken from the same viewpoint resulting a lowered level of accuracy.

The technology developed by Dr. Jabari automatically scans satellite images from different vantage points to detect changes to buildings, city landscapes and rural areas.

For example, if relief workers in Toronto were looking to assess damage throughout the city after a natural disaster it could take 50 people upward of a month to complete the task manually. Using Dr. Jabari’s automated change detection software, it would take one computer a few days – and multiple computers only a few hours.

While software currently on the market can detect changes with an accuracy of 10 to 70 per cent, the accuracy of this new technology is 80 to 90 per cent.

The capabilities of this software reach beyond disaster relief. Government, law enforcement, insurers and city planners can detect changes in areas relevant to them and do so faster, cheaper and with greater accuracy.

Dr. Jabari came to UNB in 2011 to complete her PhD with internationally renowned remote sensing professor Dr. Yun Zhang.

“Shabnam is a very intelligent and motivated student,” says Dr. Zhang, Canada Research Chair in Advanced Geomatics Image Processing. “She has very strong theoretical background and understands difficult questions quickly through a few short discussions, and independently finds solutions.”

She’s thankful that her research could be fully funded by part of Dr. Zhang’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant.

“UNB is one of the best universities in the world to study geomatics engineering in,” says Dr. Jabari. “When I came to UNB, I got to know the authors of the reference textbooks we used to study for my bachelor’s degree. It was such a great honour to see them.”

Though the research phase is complete, there’s no slowing down in sight. Dr. Jabari is continuing to research change detection to further improve the accuracy of her software. Her next step is to generate a piece of technology with industry standards which can be used by end users.

It’s Dr. Jabari’s hope that one day this technology will be a readily available tool for global use in crisis management.