Imagery helps disaster plan develop
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Dec 16, 2002
City of Prescott, Ariz.
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
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
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.