New Technology and Business in the Civic Sector

Digital Imager of U.S. Cities Available on Internet

Inexpensive, accurate, computerized imagery of your city can now be ordered over the Internet. Image Scans Inc. and Vexcel Corporation Inc., two Colorado-based software and imaging companies, have released City Scenes, a set of half-meter-resolution engineering-grade images of 12 U.S. cities that can be ordered at single or multiple-user prices over the Internet.

"There's hardly a city agency that this doesn't touch, from cities that do their own utilities to school districts to determine bus routes and make sidewalk repairs to police applications," said Michael O'Connell, vice president of sales and marketing for Image Scans, which calls itself the first aerial-film-scanning service bureau.

City Scenes offers an unlimited multiple-user license for half-meter imagery for $120 a square mile. Single-user licenses are $20 per square mile. The companies attribute the low cost of the images to advances in computer and memory during the last several years. "This type of product could not be created at these prices until the price of parallel computers and massive memory were reduced," said John Curlander, president of Vexcel, which has helped map Venus and Antarctica and has worked with NASA and other federal agencies. "The $20-per-square-mile price [for single users] should make this imagery usable by anyone with a computer." Image Scans calls its product the most accurate off-the-shelf product for the price. "We measure at [a ratio of] 1:4,800 using the national map-accuracy standard, making us the most accurate off-the-shelf product in the marketplace," O'Connell said. Image Scans now has imagery for Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle. Imagery for 12 more cities will be out before the end of the year. Among the next 12 will be Boulder, Colo.; Austin, Texas; Tampa, Fla.; Orlando, Fla.; Las Vegas; and New York. Determining which cities are chosen for City Scenes depends on a combination of factors: size, rate of growth and per capita spending on computers. However, O'Connell said, "with a six-week lead time and a minimum of 100 square feet ordered, we can deliver any city for the same [multiple]-user price."

California Uses CD-ROMs for Access to Sex-Offender List

Many state and local law enforcement agencies are now shopping for technology to comply with "Megan's Law," a 1996 statute that requires the public to be provided with information on convicted sex offenders who have served their time and who are now back on the streets. For its part, the state of California is using a CD-ROM system developed by Epic Solutions Inc., San Diego, which provides such information in a dual format to accommodate state officials and private citizens.

To gain even limited access to a sex-offender database, a person must demonstrate a specific need to know. "[Citizens] would have to go into the police station and identify themselves," said Tom Sprague, Epic's director of marketing. "They would also have to have a serious reason for being there." But the public can gain access to only a stripped-down version of the database that does not contain information such as an offender's driver's license or Social Security number.

As part of the California Justice Department's Violent Criminal Information Network initiative, every California sheriff's office and police department responsible for more than 200,000 citizens will receive a copy of Epic's CD-ROM series, which provides a file on more than 63,000 sex offenders in the state. The CDs contain digitized photos and descriptions of offenders along with notes on the danger they pose and their whereabouts.

California is considered one of the more active states in carrying out Megan's Law, signed in reaction to the 1994 rape and murder of 7-year- old Megan Kanka. The use of Epic's CD-ROMs replaces the state's reliance on a 900-number hot line and paper-based directories of dangerous child molesters. Sprague said the state paid Epic $30,000 for the use of the CDs, and Epic donated considerable resources for the product's development.

"A lot of other states will go to CD-ROM technology," to comply with the statute, said Sprague, who added that the system has had some development challenges because photos are submitted in a variety of sizes and formats. "Another of the challenges is keeping the list up-to-date," he said. "Sex offenders are not usually law-abiding citizens and don't always have permanent addresses [because] they often live out of cars or in parks."

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