Defense Innovation Unit and National Guard Bureau Leverage Bellwether’s Aerial Imagery Processing Technology to Enhance Response to Natural Disasters

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Source: Photo By: Spc. Brett Hornback
Source: photo by Spc. Brett Hornback

May 16, 2024 | Originally published by DIU on April 17, 2024

In an effort to improve natural disaster responses, the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the National Guard Bureau (NGB) partnered to prototype commercial artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning (ML) technologies to enhance natural disaster response awareness and analysis solutions. This technology is now going into production with a capability developed by X Development, LLC (known as X, part of Alphabet), called Bellwether.

NGB operates as a federal agency responsible for the administration of the National Guard and oversees the manning, training, and equipping of Guard units across the 54 states, territories, and the District of Columbia. While the Guard’s first mission as the primary combat reserve of the U.S. Army and the Air Force is to fight and win the nation’s wars, another core responsibility, and one with which people are likely most familiar, is assisting states and communities with domestic incident response. Domestic incident awareness and assessment (IAA) requires multiple sources of ephemeral knowledge and a complex set of imagery analysis. Additionally, as IAA technology evolves, new commercial AI/ML-supported situational awareness tools could help the Guard better serve emergency management partners during domestic operations (DOMOPS).

“It’s all about saving lives in our communities,” said COL Brian McGarry, Chief of Operations, Plans, and Training Division for NGB. “Right now, our analysts have to spend time sorting through images to find the ones that cover the areas most affected by natural disasters. They then have to correlate those images to surrounding infrastructure, label all the relevant features, and only then can highlight the significant damage and send it forward to first responder teams. Using AI/ML to do the routine tasks of georectification, identification, and labeling will greatly speed up how quickly we can get important information to the folks that need it most.”

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