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Landslides in Brazil. How do we leverage drones and AWS Snowcone in disaster response?

On February 15, 2022, the city of Petrópolis in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was hit by a storm with the heaviest rainfall ever recorded since 1932, killing over 230 people. The town received 250 millimeters of rainfall within three hours, compared to the climatological normal of about 185 mm for the same month. The city, located in mountain valleys, suffered not only from flooding but also from 250 separate landslides which caused mass destruction in the city.

Amid the chaos, Help.NGO received a formal request for assistance from the local Secretary of Economic Development, Energy, and International Relations. We asked our private sector technology provider, Amazon Web Services (AWS), to respond in tandem, providing technical support. Within 48 hours of receipt of the call – after organizing our team and action plan, equipment, formality, and logistics – AWS, together with Help.NGO’s DIRT (Disaster Immediate Response Team) were ready to head to Brazil.


In the mountainous regions of Brazil, the sun goes down early and the clouds are low, so drone mapping was only possible if approached with a carefully thought-out plan of action. A vital aspect of the operation was to monitor the location of our drone pilots so that they could map the greatest possible area in the shortest possible time without losing the connection with the drones.

Over the next four days, our Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) flew missions all over the city producing 2- and 3-dimensional maps. These were then submitted to local authorities so that were able to determine an effective plan of action, and equip themselves with historical data for effective planning moving forward and throughout the recovery process.


Leveraging AWS Cloud computing, we were able to support Brazil’s State Environmental Institute (INEA) in ensuring secure data storage for historical weather and radar data. INEA is the state environment authority located in Rio de Janeiro. It oversees the region’s environmental situations and usage of its natural resources. Analysis of past data is therefore crucial in forecasting and mitigation catastrophic atmospheric events for INEA. AWS Cloud’s capacity and computing power helps INEA with processing and collating weather information to further expand their understanding of the local weather, hopefully reducing the risks of future landslides.

The Help.NGO Drone Team also leveraged AWS Snow devices to create high-resolution maps and models of the damaged areas on the fly, rapidly speeding up our imagery processing pipeline. These portable devices allowed Help.NGO to successfully store data at scale in a mobile context, thus giving Help.NGO Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) the flexibility to launch flight operations anywhere within the affected areas.

We look forward to further engagement not only with Brazilian authorities as they continue to work to mitigate the risks associated with natural disasters but also to a continuation of our unique collaboration with AWS.

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