On the Job: A Picture That Has a Thousand Uses

14 Feb, 2005 Cadalyst

Etowah County calls on Pictometry's digital imaging and software for planning, 911, law enforcement and much more

Etowah County, Alabama, is implementing a metric oblique imaging software and database system from Pictometry that is finding active use countywide, from law enforcement to planning to fire safety.

Etowah County encompasses more than 500 square miles in the Appalachian foothills of Northeastern Alabama. Its county seat is Gadsden, located about 65 miles northeast of Birmingham. The county funded its Pictometry system using a combination of a federal homeland security grant and city/county funds. Pictometry recently delivered the software and imagery to the county.

Growing Technology
Pictometry's imaging process captures georeferenced, high-resolution digital images of counties and states. Combined with the company's interactive software, users can see everywhere, measure anything and plan everything, according to Pictometry. Nearly 100 customers are using the system now, including counties, states, federal government organizations and private businesses. Major metropolitan areas using Pictometry include Atlanta, Boston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., the company reports. Applications include 911, appraisals, assessments, emergency management, engineering, financial management, fire safety, GIS, homeland security, insurance, law enforcement, planning, real estate, transportation and utility management.

"The Pictometry visual intelligence system is going to be a very useful and beneficial planning tool for years to come," said Marie Bankson, director of Gadsden/Etowah County Emergency Management Agency. "In talking with the other agencies in the county that use the system, I've learned that it is being used every day in some way. Its use is going to increase more and more as word spreads of its availability and its capabilities."

Pictometry's software enables the county's users to quickly and easily access as many as 12 different high-resolution views of any property, building, highway, landmark or other feature in the county, viewing images in the traditional orthogonal view (straight down, figure 1) or oblique view (at an angle, figure 2) from various perspectives. The software also enables users to determine measurements, such as distance, height, elevation and area, directly from the imagery (figure 3), as well as insert GIS content and other data.

Figure 1. Pictometry digital image shows an orthogonal view of a medical center in Etowah County.

Figure 2. A second digital image of the medical center, in oblique view.

Figure 3. A close-up, oblique view of the medical center appears in the Pictometry software window. Notice the user wants to determine the building height (indicated by a yellow line). The corresponding measurement displays in the lower right corner.

County-wide Use
The City of Gadsden Planning Department is a heavy user of the Pictometry system, calling on it for a variety of applications such as highlighting parcels for rezoning, obtaining elevations on towers and updating city maps with new buildings. The Etowah County Enhanced 911 Department is using it for drawing and locating new roads in the county. Plans are under way to install the database in the Communications Dispatch area for easy access by their telecommunications operators while receiving and dispatching fire and EMS calls.

The Emergency Management Agency's uses for the system are many and varied, from delineating certain zones in the county for which protective action recommendations might be necessary in the event of a chemical accident, to determining locations for setting up traffic and access control points in the event of evacuation. "It is also very useful to us in locating creeks, streams or other water sources that may be threatened by a hazardous materials release from a factory or industry, or near an accident scene on the highway involving hazardous substances releases," said Bankson.

Law-enforcement agencies throughout the county have already put the system to use in their daily operations for conducting exercises, marking parade routes, surveillance, raid planning and other uses.

"Etowah County joins a growing list of counties implementing Pictometry's visual information system for their public-safety applications," said Dante Pennacchia, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Pictometry. "We are pleased to welcome them on board."