Automatic post-disaster mapping of building damage using remote sensing images is an important and time-critical element of disaster management. The characteristics of remote sensing images available immediately after the disaster are not certain, since they may vary in terms of capturing platform, sensor-view, image scale, and scene complexity. Therefore, a generalized method for damage detection that is impervious to the mentioned image characteristics is desirable. This study aims to develop a method to perform grid-level damage classification of remote sensing images by detecting the damage corresponding to debris, rubble piles, and heavy spalling within a defined grid, regardless of the aforementioned image characteristics. The Visual-Bag-of-Words (BoW) is one of the most widely used and proven frameworks for image classification in the field of computer vision. The framework adopts a kind of feature representation strategy that has been shown to be more efficient for image classification—regardless of the scale and clutter—than conventional global feature representations. In this study supervised models using various radiometric descriptors (histogram of gradient orientations (HoG) and Gabor wavelets) and classifiers (SVM, Random Forests, and Adaboost) were developed for damage classification based on both BoW and conventional global feature representations, and tested with four datasets. Those vary according to the aforementioned image characteristics. The BoW framework outperformed conventional global feature representation approaches in all scenarios (i.e.
, for all combinations of feature descriptors, classifiers, and datasets), and produced an average accuracy of approximately 90%. Particularly encouraging was an accuracy improvement by 14% (from 77% to 91%) produced by BoW over global representation for the most complex dataset, which was used to test the generalization capability.
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