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American City & County highlights photo mapping in disaster response
How Customers are Using GPS Photo-Link

 

DOCUMENTING HURRICANE DAMAGE WITH
GEO-REFERENCED IMAGERY AND GIS

 

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
Presenter:
Thomas M. Kelly
Florida Department of Transportation
11201 N. McKinley Drive
Tampa , Florida 33612

Specific Responsibilities
Mr. Kelly joined the Florida Department of Transportation in September of 1989 as a Professional Surveyor and Mapper in the District Seven Surveying and Mapping Office in Tampa, Florida. He was transferred to the Department Office of Information Systems as an Information Technology (IT) Consultant in 2000, where he is in his tenth year as the Geographic Information System (GIS) Coordinator and the seventh year as the Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) Coordinator. In addition to general IT, business process, and work flow evaluation he is responsible for technical and other support for the District’s Emergency Management Office.

Past Experience
After serving in Viet Nam as a Staff Sergeant with the U.S. Army’s 101 st Airborne Artillery Survey, he spent many years in Michigan as a Professional Land Surveyor working with private engineering firms as well as being elected to two terms as the County Surveyor for Chippewa County Michigan. The time in Michigan was followed by three years with an international engineering firm in Canada, as the Project Surveyor on a hydroelectric plant in Ontario and canal and reservoir projects in Alberta. Moving to Florida in 1980, he became a Florida Professional Surveyor and Mapper working with a major consulting firm on transportation and development projects before joining with the Florida Department of Transportation in 1989.

Educational and Professional Information
Major in Geological Engineering - Lake Superior State University
Professional Land Surveyor – Michigan, License Retired
Professional Land Surveyor – Florida, License Active
Microsoft Certified Professional
Certified Public Manager

 

DOCUMENTING HURRICANE DAMAGE WITH
GEO-REFERENCED IMAGERY AND GIS

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
Co-presenter:
Richard E. Bobbitt
GeoSpatial Experts
2080 E 1134 th Ave
Thornton , CO 80241

 

Specific Responsibilities
Rick Bobbitt is the founder, president and software engineer for GeoSpatial Experts. He founded GeoSpatial Experts in 2001 after the company he worked for succumbed to the dot-bomb crisis of 2001. GeoSpatial Experts was founded after Rick won a Digital contest for script software he wrote using the Kodak DC290 camera and a Garmin GPS. That script software evolved into GPS-Photo Link and is currently being used over one thousand customers around the world.

As the developer of GPS-Photo Link, Rick is continually updating the software. In 2002, GeoSpatial Experts developed an ArcGIS Extension linking GPS-Photo Link to ESRI’s ArcMap. This enabled ESRI customers to easily view and manipulate their digital photos in ArcMap. In 2004, Rick customized the software for the Ricoh Pro G3 digital camera system. The new version of GPS-Photo Link takes advantage of camera’s capacity to include embedded GPS and user-defined fields. Also in 2004 GPS-Photo Link was modified to take advantage of the Trimble receiver's Bluetooth capacity linking it to the Ricoh camera. Additional enhancements are always under development.

Past Experience
Rick Bobbitt is a GIS/GPS Software Engineer with more than 20 years experience. Prior to founding GeoSpatial Experts, Rick worked for several GIS/GPS companies including Bendix/King developing avionics software, II Morrow Inc writing software for avionics for small airplanes and several agricultural companies creating precision agriculture and internet applications.

Educational and Professional Information
Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering – Colorado State University

Professional Memberships
• GITA Member
• ESRI Business Partner
• Trimble Business Partner
• Ricoh Business Partner

 

DOCUMENTING HURRICANE DAMAGE WITH
GEO-REFERENCED IMAGERY AND GIS

ABSTRACT

This presentation will address the combined application of photography, GPS, and GIS in the documentation of Hurricane damage as implemented in the State of Florida’s Emergency Operations process. The application of this combination of technologies from the initial RECON efforts in the wake of a hurricane through the documentation required by FEMA in the assessment of damage will be discussed. Variations of this technology and how it works and how the concepts may be applied to other data collection efforts will also be discussed.

 

DOCUMENTING HURRICANE DAMAGE WITH
GEO-REFERENCED IMAGERY AND GIS

 

Thomas M. Kelly
Florida Department of Transportation
11201 N. McKinley Drive
Tampa , Florida 33612

BACKGROUND

The use of photographs to document events or objects is an every day occurrence, as is the typically awkward and time consuming task of documenting where these photographs were taken.

Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Emergency Management Office for District Seven in Tampa, Florida, provides helicopter RECON Teams to document damage caused by disaster. These teams have been in place for close to ten years, and they continually improve their use of technology and techniques to provide rapid response documentation of disasters such as hurricanes, forest fires and other events. RECON teams and other Responders provide assistance to the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), as well as supporting FEMA’s efforts in Public Assistance (PA) work. The intent of this paper is to share FDOT’s knowledge on the application of some evolving technologies and techniques that can be used to attribute imagery with a location as well as providing effective and efficient ways for viewing and visualizing images and their location. The techniques and technology discussed in this paper have a broad application that extends far beyond emergency response needs.

DOCUMENTING STORM DAMAGE

The following portrays the early efforts of FDOT’s helicopter RECON efforts:

South Florida, the year is 1995, following just hours behind a passing hurricane. A helicopter lands in an empty field near a street intersection and a RECON Team member dashes to a bent over street sign to confirm a street name. The team, having confirmed its location on the paper maps used for navigating, continues flying behind the storm taking notes and pictures to document the damage. Each picture taken is noted on the map with a penciled in number so that later coordinates could be scaled and annotated on the back of each respective photo, a days work, which in turn would be sent by carrier to the SEOC for damage assessment documentation and for determining what resources were required to assist the impacted area . Responders, whether ground or air, PA or RECON, would scale coordinates from paper maps to document the location where photographs were taken. In the following years an integrated system of hand held navigation grade Global Positioning System (GPS) units along with laptops running mapping software would be used for accurate navigation and rapid acquisition of coordinates. Digital cameras would be implemented and images would be electronically transmitted or imbedded in documents. Even with the advances in digital cameras and GPS, manual processes would be required to link an image to a location. To integrate this process into a Geographic Information System (GIS) would require significant time and very skilled technicians. This process started to change with some of the early implementations of camera and GPS integrations like the Kodak system that married a Garmin GPS III with a Kodak camera mounted on a common bracket. The early Kodak software provided coordinates with the images and had a GIS input, but was awkward to use and had very poor power consumption and image quality compared to the systems that would follow.

Starting in the middle of the 2004 hurricane season FDOT Air RECON Teams implemented a new combination of technologies to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their photographic image documentation and transmission. Depending on the need, two to four Air RECON Teams are used to complement Search and Rescue and provide Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA). The three member Teams fly in rented helicopters (pilot included). Teams pack equipment and the minimal personal gear to support them for up to three days of flying, with weight being a major consideration in balancing fuel and flying range. Three man teams fly in either Bell Ranger or Long Ranger type helicopters. In the front seat is the Team Chief with a backup GPS unit and a hard copy Map Atlas who directs the team and pilot, the two team members in the back seat run a Ricoh Pro G3 camera with a CompactFlash GPS plug-in, laptop with a cabled GPS antenna taped to the window, and an everyday clipboard with damage assessment forms.

The laptops running Delorme Street Atlas mapping software with GPS input are preloaded with the location and names of Critical Facilities, and are used for navigation and detailed location information. The cameras with a CompactFlash GPS make use of a cabled GPS antenna extension which must be taped to a window. The use of redundant means for determining location is uniquely important, with all effort being wasted if the ability to determine location is lost.

There are different tasks being performed in the air at any point in time. The front seat needs the big picture that is often best seen with a paper map and has a strategically placed GPS with the best sky view as back up for all of the other GPS units on board. The laptop operator provides more detailed navigation to the predetermined targets and clarifies details such as street names etc. while taking hand written notes from the callouts by the front seat and cameraman as they identify damage. The cameraman, aside from ensuring his camera settings are correct, must learn how to “swing” the camera if it is not a head on shot, monitor the GPS input to ensure that he is maintaining Satellite lock when the helicopter turns or tilts, and monitor the cameras power supply. The laptops and cameras are ruggedized and each team carries a spare laptop and camera.

During refueling stops or at days end depending on conditions, images and GPS data are downloaded to the laptops for processing with GeoSpatial Experts GPS-Photo Link software. Following a hurricane communications are spotty and multiple cell phone vendors and satellite phones are used to call in verbal reports as communication availability allows.

Depending on the availability of higher speed communication capabilities the teams are able to post within hours of acquisition the GPS-Photo Link processed high resolution imagery watermarked with coordinates, time, date, storm name, area name, and team number to an FTP site accessible by the SEOC. Also included with the imagery are ESRI Shape Files that display the location of every photo. A GPS-Photo Link plug-in provides the ability to “mouse over” the points and automatically display a thumbnail of the photo display, which when double clicked displays the full image. For those users who lack GIS functionality, the files are also bundled with an HTML capability that allows a browser to display a scroll bar of thumb nail images that when clicked open the full image along with an associated table of attributes. The Internet browser functionality also provides hot links to a variety of photo or mapping websites open to a view of the area where the image was taken with the camera location annotated on the map or photo.

This newer capability is used not only by RECON Teams; it has also been implemented with the PA Teams supporting FEMA operations in the hurricane recovery starting in 2004. PA teams assist public applicants in documenting, assessing, and estimating damage. The assessment makes use of standard FEMA forms which require the latitude and longitude of damaged areas, along with photography of the damage, making the GPS/Camera combo a natural fit to the work flow. During the 2004 hurricane season FEMA GIS staff in the Orlando Operations Center, began using the GIS and image outputs from GPS-Photo Link to further improve the response effort for recovery operations. There are non-technical users who look at this as magic and technical staff who view this as a natural progression of technology and wonder where else they can apply it.

GPS-ENABLED CAMERA AND GIS TECHNOLOGY

Advancements in digital imaging devices (cameras), improved GPS technology along with GPS satellite signals no longer being hampered by Selective Availability (SA) all contribute to a process that can be addressed with new software and hardware that takes advantage of a common link between digital cameras and GPS. Added to this is the increased use and improved desktop functionality of GIS software, WEB functions, communications, and other peripheral devices.

The key to associating a location with an image is time. With rare exception, today’s digital cameras retain a time stamp with every image acquired, and GPS devices are ultimate time keepers since the atomic clocks in GPS satellites are a key component in the computations and communications between the GPS ground receivers and satellites. To determine the location of a camera at the time an image is acquired, the camera time and GPS time be synchronized with each other. Once synchronization is achieved, the extraction of location data from a GPS unit at the time an image was acquired becomes possible. The time sync approach to establishing coordinates for a digital image is not a new concept, but the earlier mentioned improvements in digital cameras and GPS systems have made the practical application of this technology a cost effective and viable option that is steadily bringing new hardware and software to the market.

Products of the Digital Camera-GPS combo are a function of the hardware and software choices. An initial camera image is a function of the camera’s capability and settings which is further enhanced through software processing into a variety of outputs. Final images optionally may contain a variety of attribute labels with options for image quality, and thumbnail images are typically generated as one of the interfaces to a viewing system. The capture of coordinates matched to a photo is foundational to the total process, allowing images and a variety of attributes to be developed into shape files and/or geo-databases for use in a GIS. The different software vendors provide different flavors of image and attribute use and presentation within ArcMap, but they all provide image point locations and tools for viewing. Given the images and their location, it is ultimately the skill and imagination of the GIS user along with the vendor tools provided which allow for a wide range of mapping functionality from desktop solutions to an ArcIMS delivery. Another innovation is the use of browser functionality. Some software provides HTML functions which can be used to view thumbnails, full images, and attribute reports with a browser, as well as linking to background maps such as high resolution USGS color photography.

The availability of-off-the shelf software to do the processing is increasing, and as might be expected these software’s come in different flavors of functionality to fit the needs of users. Camera systems are also being introduced in different flavors, to include geo-referenced video, which typically uses a slightly different methodology than static digital imaging. Briefly, geo-referenced video can take advantage of the multi-track design of video that places the video signal on one track and an audio signal on a parallel track of the media. Since audio is frequently recorded as stereo or two tracks, we now have three parallel or time synced tracks of data. With video occupying the video track and a single audio track being used for voice annotation, the third track can be used to record the track file from a GPS unit. Software has been developed that allows for simultaneous viewing of video with the animated plotting of the camera track from within a GIS.

Hardware can include options for cameras, GPS units, laser range finders, BlueTooth or other communication options. Choice of hardware is driven by a combination of the cost, accuracy requirements, functionality, ease of use and portability required to meet the end users needs. A bulky system with sub-meter accuracy would not meet the needs of a helicopter RECON Team who works in cramped conditions at a rapid pace. These teams are well served with ten meter accuracy. A user requiring sub-meter accuracy for a more precise utility component location and working from a truck does not have the same constraints as the RECON Team. The camera/GPS combinations range from small footprint cameras with a flashcard GPS, through larger cameras with an attached navigation GPS unit, to higher accuracy larger footprint GPS devices with laser range finders and high power zoom cameras.

Hardware considerations:

  • If it is required or desired to have the camera pointing direction as an attribute then look for a system that has a compass option and can capture the direction as an attribute.
  • If a camera location within 3-5 meters is sufficient, then the core functionality of most systems using WAAS enabled navigation grade GPS should be sufficient.
  • If the location of an object being photographed is required (as opposed to the location of the camera) and the object would fall within BlueTooth range, look for a Bluetooth and WAAS enabled GPS receiver camera combination.
  • If the location of an object being photographed (as opposed to the location of the camera) is required and the object would fall at a distance beyond BlueTooth range and is perhaps inaccessible, consider a laser rangefinder option as well as an appropriate zoom function on the camera.
  • If lower accuracies are sufficient and the user base is less technically inclined, consider smaller and simpler camera and GPS combinations as well as easy to use software.
  • If sub-meter accuracies are required along with some of the previous scenarios, upgrade the GPS beyond navigation grade. Sub-meter accuracy can be acquired real time at one cost and post-processed at typically a lesser cost.
  • Some camera systems have software that allows for programming of pull-down menus etc. to allow for attribute collection as part of the camera process.
  • Some camera and software systems allow for the capture of voice annotation through to the implementation of voice annotation in the ArcMap system.

All implementations require training and practice if they are to become effective and efficient tools in support of your business process. Training begins with determining the organizational need and requirement for the images and their attributes. Once these are determined standards must be established to insure that the organizational need is met. It is the standards and their enforcement that determines the training. When the equipment is implemented with new, casual or infrequent users, it is advisable to use regular training courses to insure effective production.

APPLYING THE TECHNOLOGY

“Who can make use of this technology?” is probably a difficult question to answer an easier question might be “Who can’t make use of this technology?”

The old cliché “A picture is worth a thousand words” is very often true, unless you do not know when and where the picture was taken. The ability to readily map and display pictures with location and other attribute information has application that is limited only by imagination.

A list of potential application areas is large, and it is the imagination of the users in these areas that will determine the benefit to be gained. The following are examples of where Geo-Referenced Imagery could provide value:

  • First Responders and Homeland Defense
    • Damage assessment and documentation
    • Security
    • Accident Investigation
    • Undercover investigation
    • Hazardous Material Incidents investigation and documentation
  • Military
  • Transportation Departments
    • Asset management
    • Pavement condition
    • Maintenance
    • Drainage/flooding
    • Traffic count sites
    • “As-built” Transportation facilities
  • Utility Companies
    • Asset management
    • Damage assessment/documentation
    • “As-built” Utility infrastructure
    • Route assessment
  • Agriculture and Forestry
    • Crop, soil, and flooding documentation
    • Infestation, disease, and drought documentation
  • Insurance Companies
    • Home, vehicle and other damage documentation
  • Recreational Photography
    • Traveling
    • Hiking
    • Canoeing
  • Parks and Recreation
    • Maintenance
    • Damage
    • Planning

The list goes on beyond this representative cross section.

VENDORS

A search of the internet for “GPS photo or photo GPS or camera GPS etc.” will ultimately identify a few vendors of the technology being discussed herein. Try again in a few months and you will probably see more vendors. These vendors may offer hardware, software or a combination of both. Currently the more visible vendors appear to be GeoSpatial Experts and Red Hen Systems. They each offer software products that incorporate ESRI integration and will process images from most digital cameras and a variety of GPS units. The available hardware and software combinations provide a multitude of options that must be evaluated for the best fit to the users need.

CLOSING

The integration of digital imagery and GIS can provide great effectiveness and efficiencies for a vast number of work flows. It is up to the user community to provide the creative thought required to guide the implementation of these technologies into their business process. We have seen technologies evolve into wonders that were not initially foreseen and so it will be with the combinations of technologies presented in this paper.

 

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