Volunteered Raster Data 

for Disaster Preparedness

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles as a means of data collection for participatory action research

Britta Ricker, PhD

Assistant Professor




  • Disaster and Data Needs
  • Participatory Action Research, the Geoweb and Spatial Media = Communication!
  • Demystifying Drone Workflow
  • Social Implications
  • Conclusions and future work

Disaster Cycle



means to illuminate social and environmental injustices


co-construction of knowledge= Better understanding of HAZARDS?


promotion of self and critical awareness that leads to individual, collective social change

Participatory Action Research

Tell me, I forget.

Show me, I remember.

Involve me, I understand. 


-Chinese Proverb (Paulos et al., 2009)

Participatory Mapping

"moment of translation

transforming experiential, testimonial and qualitative forms of knowledge into quantitative aggregated or abstracted forms" (Elwood & Leszczynski , 2012: 548)


  • interconnected tools and spatial data available on the web spanning multiple geographic regions

  • Revolutionized spatial data (Sui, 2008)

  • but not democratizing it (Haklay, 2013)

  • Provides access to satellite and aerial imagery! (Goodchild, 2007; Harvey, 2014; Kingsbury & Jones, 2009)

  • Opportunity to contribute Volunteered Geographic Information (Goodchild, 2007)

Maps --> Media





Spatial Media

Elwood & Leszczynski (2012) New spatial media, new knowledge politics. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (38): 544-559.

"Mediums or channels that extend our ability to interact with and create geographic information online" p 544

Knowledge Politics

Political Power

"...knowledge politics to be shaped by deeply institutionalized tendencies in planning and policy making to grant greater weight to knowledge expressed as quantitative data or represented in cartographic forms." 


Data Driven Decision Making

(Elwood & Leszczynski, 2012: 545)

"From expert to everyday"


(Elwood & Leszczynski, 2012)

Public Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS)


Spatial Media

Maintain a keen awareness as to not reproduce inequalities. Active engagement in effort to use these technologies to combat inequalities (Elwood, 2015)



Many Voices

Many forms

Medium influences who will participate

(Chambers 2006)



Method by which participants identify, represent, and enhance their community through a specific photographic technique


  • Identify community assets and deficits
  • Use photography to draw attention to a social issue
  • Induce change by informing policy makers


Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

Aerial Photography

Negative connotation



(Sandvik & Lohne, 2014)


Drones for good

  • Archaeology 
  • Forestry
  • Emergency response
  • Search and Rescue
  • Natural resource management
  • (Precision)Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Remote Sensing 
  • (Colomina & Molina, 2014; Everaerts, 2008, Forance et al., 2014; Upton et al., 2015; Zhang & Kovacs, 2012; Rokhmana, 2015).

Organized #DronesforGood

  • Digital Humanitarianism
  • OpenAerialMap
  • UAViators 
  • DIYDrones
  • OpenDroneMap
  • DroneAdventures
  • Conservation Drones
  • Drone Code

Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University created this 3D model from aerial imagery captured by UAV.

Spatial Media: Aerial Photovoice Cinemtography

The Appalachian Mountaintop Patrol (AMP)

Laura grace chipley 

Aerial Photovoice

  • evokes emotion 
  • representations of place
  • What if we used it for something more important?
Digital Maps! 
Digital Globes offer basemaps for participatory mapping. But they also control temporal and spatial resolution of those basemaps

 Putting a UAV in the hands of a community, could they monitor...

  • Community changes through the course of a day, season, year...
  • Acute changes - landslide event, urban encroachment
  • Gradual changes - land use change, urban growth
  • Ecosystem services
  •  Access to water resources, refugee camp movement
  • Habitat loss...
  • ?????

Harmful Algal Blooms

Twin Lakes Home Owners Assiciation, Federal Way

Lake Loreen

Lake Jean

Lake Loreen

Lake Loreen

Demystify the Workflow


  1. Drone Selection Process
  2. Flight Practice and Planning
  3. Flying
  4. Data Processing 

Drone Selection

(Eisenbeiss, 2011: 34)

Classified by takeoff and landing methods

DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus

  • 25 minute flight time
  • Return home when battery is low
  • Compass and GPS
  • 14 mega pixel camera and Gimble
  • ~$1200


Flight Practice and Planning


Auto Pilot

Free Flight

Image Processing

Photography and Cinematography


Image Processing

MapKnitter, Google Maps, MapBox, GeoServer + OpenLayers, ESRI Online

Manual Processing

Structure from Motion (SfM) software

Generate an Othophoto




Title Text

  • Bullet One
  • Bullet Two
  • Bullet Three

77 photos to make an orthophoto, 3D model + more in

> one hour total

Share your data



Similar critiques of GIS

and mobile spatial media (Elwood, 2008; Thatcher, 2016)

Privacy (Curry, 1997) 

  • Geoweb transformation of the social contract around privacy – societal agreement (Elwood, 2015)

Access to technology (Obermeyer, 1995) 

​Risk of Re-enforcing inequality 




  • Decline of the public sector - private sector leading
  • "Enthusiasts" can fly, not governments
  • International regulations vary dramatically

Medium influences who will participate

(Chambers, 2006) 

Comfort level when flying

Tacoma Professional

Tacoma Amateur 

Only scratching the surface

Conclusion & Future

Maps are political


Work with communities

Opportunity to establish ethical standards for UAV usage


  • Illuminate social and environmental injustice
  • Relevant Temporal Resolution
  • Enhanced Spatial Resolution
  • Increased coverage
  • Complement existing research methods
  • Opportunity to establish good practice with community engagement 

Participation sparks critical thinking during each step of the process


Illuminate methods in which to utilize these increasingly accessible technologies to edit your world, tell your truth,

share your experience in place. 

Data Day Dreams

Thank You.

Acknowledgments: Agnieszka Leszczynski , Muki Haklay,

Sarah Elwood, Ali Modarres

U of Auckland

By Britta Ricker