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Drones in Humanitarian Action Case Study No.13: Using drones to inspect post-earthquake road damage in Ecuador

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In April 2016, a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck north-west Ecuador, damaging homes, buildings and infrastructure and killing more than 660 people. Thousands of buildings and homes were damaged or destroyed, as well as other infrastructure such as roadways and bridges. The earthquake caused soil to shift, increasing the risk of landslides during the 189 aftershocks that were counted in the two days after the quake.1 To have a clearer picture of how the land had moved and to assess further risk of landslides, drones were provided to the government to collect data to develop ortho-mosaics and maps that helped geologists and project managers assess risk and make decisions.


After the worst earthquake in 40 years hit Ecuador, a state of emergency was declared in the six coastal provinces – Esmeraldas, Galapagos, Guayas, Los Rios, Manabí and Santo Domingo.
Rescue operations and the search for survivors began immediately after the earthquake and continued for several days. Thousands of people were left homeless, and experts estimate it will take years for the hardest hit areas to recover and rebuild. Within a day, numerous humanitarian organizations had begun to respond to the needs on the ground. Among them were volunteer drone pilots (with 10-12 drones among them) who collaborated with government and non-government actors to gain a better understanding of the situation from above and to inform the response.

Local entrepreneur and engineer Francisco Ruiz was one of those volunteer drone pilots.
Mr Ruiz worked with and as part of a UAViators roster of pilots alongside local government authorities by flying drones to collect data in the affected areas.In particular, Mr Ruiz and other volunteers supported aerial surveys for the Ministry of Transport in several areas across Manabí. They were able to analyse and publish data less than three days after the earthquake, providing maps with the most up-to-date information available. Mr Ruiz and his collaborators provided aerial data that was shared on a public geo-portal platform run by OpenAerialMap2 (affiliated with OpenStreetMap). Because of the speed with which they were able to collect and disseminate the data, these outputs were critical tools for decision makers and other authorities in the days and weeks following the disaster.