DHCD Receives Maryland Association of Counties Innovation Award for Artificial Intelligence Tool That Detects Collapsed Roofs

Baltimore, MD – Today, Mayor Brandon M. Scott and the Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) announced that the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) has recognized DHCD for developing a cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) tool that detects collapsed rooftops in Baltimore.

MACO presented the City with a County Innovation Award, which is given "to recognize superb and leading-edge county programs that improve overall quality-of-life and service delivery for a county's residents." In partnership with the City's Chief Data Officer and the Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) research group at Carnegie Mellon University, DHCD is testing the use of an AI algorithm to automatically detect rooftops showing signs of damage or collapse using the City's existing code enforcement data and geographic information systems (GIS) aerial flyover imagery. This tool will help the City to be proactive in flagging buildings for possible emergency demolition, and in the future, will provide further advance warning to first responders about dangerous structures.

In 2018, DHCD staff organized a project for interns from the Youth Works program. Interns manually reviewed imagery of every block with a vacant building, capturing properties with roof issues. DHCD utilized the data captured from this project as an essential component in building the AI tool. This process identified vacant properties for emergency or high-priority demolition. However, this approach was labor intensive, using thousands of labor hours to review just a quarter of all rooftops in the city, and the study could only be performed every few years.

Following the deaths of City firefighters Lt. Paul Butrim, firefighter/paramedic Kelsey Sadler, and EMT/firefighter Kenny Lacayo in January 2022, Mayor Scott called on all agencies to reevaluate their approaches to combatting vacant properties in the city. In response, DHCD committed to a new rooftop study using 2021 aerial imagery. Additionally, DHCD was accepted into DSSG's Summer Fellowship program to explore automating the study. Eventually, the tool will augment DHCD's vacant building information that is now integrated into the City's computer-aided dispatch (CAD), alerting first responders to potentially hazardous buildings.

"This is a great example of how we are leveraging modern technology to improve government operations as part of our Responsible Stewardship of City Resources priority pillar," said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. "By identifying unstable vacant properties, we are able to prioritize the demolition of structures that pose the greatest threat to residents, first responders and communities at-large."

"As we continue tackling the vacant building issue in our city, protecting the health and well-being of our residents and first responders is a top priority," said Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy. "This AI advancement of our rooftop condition analysis is a major forward movement in our work to identify hazards and increase safety."

Henry Waldron, Director of Analytics for DHCD, stated "as we begin to implement this tool, I expect it to be used for emergency response and resource allocation in support of existing residents, and a multitude of new ways of looking at the city's approach to building quality."

Chief Data Officer Justin Elszasz said "this represents cutting-edge data use in local government and I couldn't be prouder of or more impressed by DHCD's forward thinking. This tool will save lives, and it provides a new ‘north star' for how the City integrates data more deeply into its operations."

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