Imagery helps disaster plan develop

City of Prescott, Ariz.

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"Battling blazes"

When a wildfire broke out in north central Arizona earlier this year, firefighters

and other emergency workers in Prescott relied on maps that were two years

old.

The maps were sufficient in that instance, and the first responders

essentially contained the fire the following morning, said Dale Anderson,

the city's geographical information systems coordinator. But he said they

realized they needed to be more proactive in dealing with events.

"The biggest thing we learned is you have to have plans in place for

multiple scenarios of what could happen," he said. That meant putting evacuation

procedures in place and making sure there was current imagery on hand that

represented the real world, he said.

Prescott (pronounced press-kit) had a good deal of geographic information

systems data, but there was "no real direction toward disaster preparedness,"

said Anderson, who assumed his post two months before the May 15 fire.

For post-fire analysis and long-term preparedness, the city contracted

with Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe, which provides high-resolution

satellite imagery through its QuickBird satellite, launched in October 2001.

The company says the satellite provides the highest resolution available

to the commercial market.

Chuck Herring, DigitalGlobe's marketing communications director, said

cities and counties comprise one of the company's largest markets. The company

also has federal agencies as customers, including the National Imagery and

Mapping Agency and NASA.

Uses of satellite imagery vary from national security purposes to wetlands

studies to vegetation analysis, he said, adding that in Alaska, images are

used for walrus studies, while in Africa, they are used to track elephant

herds.

He said the satellite imagery is highly valuable to state and local

governments for preparedness, such as laying out escape and evacuation routes

or mapping first responder routes.

QuickBird satellite images were provided to Prescott about two weeks

after city officials requested them. Anderson said infrared imaging was

provided to locate possible underground fires. Images also are being used

to update maps with current road and building construction, vegetation conditions

and population centers, he added.

Anderson also said advanced applications, such as airflow modeling integrated

with the maps, could show how vulnerable the city is should a breach occur

at a nearby nuclear reactor. He said the city plans to get updated images

at least every two years and create a regional plan to share the images.

Although it's a competitive market, Herring said satellite imagery is

a good complement to aerial photography. Depending on what they request,

the cost is about $22 to $70 per square kilometer, he said. The company

also is building an image archive database that would provide faster deliveries

to customers, he added.

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