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AI tool designed to find Baltimore's dangerous vacant buildings undergoes testing

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CBS News Baltimore Live

BALTIMORE –  An artificial intelligence tool that was designed to detect collapsed rooftops and dangerous buildings in Baltimore is attracting attention and accolades as it moves through an important testing process, according to the office of Mayor Brandon Scott.

Scott's office announced on Tuesday that the Maryland Association of Counties recently recognized the Department of Housing & Community Development's cutting-edge tool with a County Innovation Award, which is given to county programs that improve the quality of life of the county's residents.

The tool is undergoing testing that aims to improve the algorithm process, which is designed to detect rooftops showing signs of damage or collapse using the City's existing code enforcement data and geographic information systems aerial flyover imagery, according to city officials.

The tool will be used to identify vacant properties for emergency or high-priority demolition, a process previously done via the Youth Works program, which relies on interns manually reviewing imagery of every block with a vacant building, capturing properties with roof issues, city officials said.

The hope is that the tool can provide advance warning to first responders about dangerous structures in the city, according to city officials.

Scott called on local agencies to reevaluate their approach to combatting the threats that vacant properties pose following the deaths of Baltimore City firefighters Lt. Paul Butrim, Kelsey Sadler, and  Kenny Lacayo.

Families of firefighters to sue Baltimore City, Maryland over deadly Stricker Street fire, collapse 02:18

The three firefighters died after part of a vacant house collapsed on them while they were fighting a fire on Stricker Street in South Baltimore on Jan. 24, 2022.

Firefighters had rushed into the house because they thought someone was trapped inside.

Their deaths are being investigated as homicides.

Following the fatal fire, the city conducted an audit of its vacant buildings following the fatal fire showed that Baltimore was home to more than 14,000 vacant buildings.

 In response, the Department of Housing & Community Development committed to developing a new rooftop study using 2021 aerial imagery. 

The  Department of Housing & Community Development is conducting testing of the algorithm in partnership with the City's Chief Data Officer and the Data Science for Social Good research group at Carnegie Mellon University, city officials said.

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