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Aerial imagery speeds the way in emergency management

Both dispatch and EMTs are saving lives with high-resolution aerial maps that guide decision making though precise location content

5 min read




Tony Agresta

First responders are always looking for ways to improve accuracy and decision-making times. One way to do this is by integrating high-resolution maps, which provide more precise locations and better details. Here we talk with Tony Agresta, Vice President of Marketing at Nearmap US, about how emergency management can take advantage of better location mapping to save more lives and respond more quickly.


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 just days or weeks old show details that older maps or blurry satellite imagery simply cannot. Imagine a scenario where an emergency vehicle is navigating through 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 exact locations. High-resolution aerial maps provide pinpoint accuracy and context for emergency rescue.

Above taken in April 2017, below taken in October 2017


Aerial imagery shows how roads change during periods of time and can be used to improve navigation.


What differentiates aerial maps from other forms of imagery? Are aerial maps integrated into emergency management systems or used on their own?

There are three common forms of imagery used today – satellite, aerial and drone. Satellite imagery covers the world at one-foot to one-meter resolution. Because it’s not as clear as other forms of imagery, ground and property features lack 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 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 more visible.  

Aerial maps can be used standalone by anyone who has internet access. 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, and tools to measure distances provide 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.


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 down at the location. Panorama imagery shows wide area perspectives in an uninterrupted way that allows 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 image 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, she sees the front door, the height of the house or building, windows and porches. She has the flexibility to visualize from any direction looking around the location from various perspectives.

The camera systems capturing these details are also capturing dense point clouds that are being translated into immersive 3D visualizations right now. Imagine a dispatcher having the ability to walk around a property or look at a roof and then dive into surrounding area – all remotely from the desktop. EMT professionals can access imagery from tablets in the field, another advantage.

Aerial maps of complex areas can be used to direct EMT professionals to precise locations.


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.  


Learn more about how to access and apply aerial maps in your company. 


Tony Agresta is VP of Marketing at Nearmap. He’s spent his career focused on high-tech software, data and analytics to help businesses and government exceed their goals.