LaGuardia Airport Construction - Flushing, NY; captured July 31, 2017
Tony Agresta, VP of Marketing at Nearmap was recently asked to discuss the use of aerial maps in emergency management and law enforcement. Here are his responses.
Question 1: What role do aerial maps play in emergency management?
Seconds count in this business. Locations are constantly changing due to growth, redesign or new construction. While GPS and routing systems are pervasive, there’s more that can be done to create highly responsive emergency management dispatch and service.
Current aerial maps that are days or weeks old show details that older maps or blurry satellite imagery simply can’t. Imagine a scenario where an emergency vehicle is navigating through a newly designed roadways under construction. Imagine saving lives in complex locations such as campuses, refineries, malls or urban centers. The details provided by dispatch help guide emergency technicians to the exact location. High resolution aerial maps provide pinpoint accuracy and context for emergency rescue.
Question 2: What differentiates aerial maps from other forms of imagery? Are aerial maps integrated into emergency management systems or used stand-alone?
There are three common forms of imagery used today – satellite, aerial and drone. Satellite imagery covers the world at 1 foot to 1-meter resolution. It’s not as clear as other forms of imagery which translates into ground and property features lacking resolution. Drone imagery is high resolution but always localized. Today, it’s impossible to capture hundreds of thousands of square miles of drone imagery in the US on a regular basis.
Aerial imagery is the optimal middle ground. Photography taken from airplanes flying at 10,000 to 18,000 feet in sub three-inch resolution covers nearly 70% of the US population today. It’s helping both governments and commercial organizations get the job done. Aerial captures are done at least two times per year in both “leaf on” and “leaf off” conditions. Without the leaves on, fence line detail, pools, paths, dirt roads - virtually anything - is much more visible.
Aerial maps can be used standalone by anyone who has access to the internet. It’s as easy as launching a browser, logging in and searching for an address, city or location of interest. Roadways and addresses are labeled. Tools to measure distances are provided delivering instant insights needed in the emergency management field. This type of technology is also being integrated into emergency management systems using APIs. When handled this way, workflows are uninterrupted. In some cases, 911 services use both approaches, depending on the job role.
Question 3: What forms of aerial imagery are available and how does each apply to emergency management?
Aerial imagery has taken a major leap forward recently and there’s more innovation on the way. “Top down” or vertical imagery is useful to measure distances and identify any type of building or ground feature as you look straight down at the location. Panorama imagery shows wide area perspectives in an uninterrupted way allowing users to instantly scan the landscape with complete context. Oblique imagery shows heights of buildings and allows for measurements as well.
Let’s say a 911 emergency call comes in. The dispatcher could quickly bring up a city or town panorama, pinpoint the location of the call and visualize every roadway on the route. Then she could flip to the vertical imagery as the emergency vehicle gets closer to the exact location and begin navigating using detailed landmarks, turns in driveways and possible obstructions. With one more click, users see the front door, the height of the house or building, windows and porches. They have the flexibility to visualize from any cardinal direction looking around the location from various perspectives.
The camera systems capturing these details are also capturing dense point clouds which are being translated into immersive 3D visualizations right now. Imagine a dispatcher having the ability to literally walk around a property or look at a roof and then dive into surrounding area – all remotely from the desktop. EMT professionals access imagery from tablets in the field which is also a major advantage.
Question 4: Is this type of technology also being used by law enforcement?
Law enforcement has applied predictive analytics and other forms of intelligence for a long time. They view aerial maps as another advantage in crime fighting and crowd control. Police officers preparing for a raid want to see possible exit points, distances to tree lines, presence of a dog, fencing, cars parked nearby. But the use cases don’t stop here. Oftentimes, law enforcement is asked to document the location of crowds involved in protests. Officials want documentation on how crowds were dispersed, timing, distance and location. Annotating aerial maps with this added information is valuable in courts of law.