On the Job: Document Crash Scenes Now, Analyze Later

13 Oct, 2005 Cadalyst

Eos Systems software helps Massachusetts' police clear sites quickly, reducing chance of secondary accidents

The Massachusetts State Police has become the third state police agency to adopt a close-range photogrammetry system as its standard for documenting and reconstructing traffic accidents, aiming to shorten highway closure times and reduce risks of secondary accidents during these closures.

The Massachusetts Highway Department has earmarked $357,000 in federal grant money to implement PhotoModeler from Eos Systems throughout the state police force. The project includes equipping troopers of Massachusetts State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section with digital cameras, implementing the desktop modeling software in district offices and training users. The agency expects to fully implement the new system by year's end.

How It Works
PhotoModeler can recreate accident scenes based on multiple photographs taken by officers from different angles. The software uses reverse engineering to generate a 3D CAD model of the crash with accurate, real-world measurements. These measurements can then determine vehicle positions and speeds prior to the collision. Because the measurements are scientifically derived through the method of photogrammetry, PhotoModeler provides the evidence required in the courtroom if negligence is found.

A state trooper quickly documents details of a crash scene using a digital camera.

Evidence is preserved, identified and measured in PhotoModeler after the highway has been cleared.

Major accidents and their investigation often result in long waits for motorists caught near the scene. This situation frequently leads to other traffic incidents -- what police call secondary accidents, when some drivers attempt to find a way out of or around the congestion. The photogrammetry technology is expected to expedite evidence gathering and reduce delays for tens of thousands of motorists statewide. For major accidents, the on-scene investigation time is expected to drop from two to three hours to about 60 to 90 minutes.

Growing Use
PhotoModeler is used by thousands of organizations specializing in crime and accident reconstruction as well as archeology, architecture, engineering, surveying, film and video animation. Many police agencies nationwide use the system, but Massachusetts is only the third state to universally adopt the technology as its primary tool for evidence collection.

Digital cameras are standard issue to all 500 highway patrol troopers in Utah. That agency switched to photogrammetry in 2001 to improve traffic for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. "We like to keep our investigations under an hour," says Utah Highway Patrol Capt. Robert Anderson. "We push our guys to get roads reopened. This tool is what we need to make it happen."

Mike Anderson, deputy sheriff of Salt Lake County, reports a vast improvement in accident documentation by PhotoModeler over the previous method, which used laser-guided surveying equipment. "For large scenes, [those] measurements took hours. With PhotoModeler, we can just take a few photos and get out of there. Because it gives us the same accuracy, we now use PhotoModeler exclusively."

Alan Walford, CEO of Eos Systems, believes this newest state customer is just the beginning of widespread use of the technology among investigators. "Eos Systems has helped many police forces start up with photogrammetry, and we are very pleased to work with agencies with large-scale implementation projects such as Massachusetts, Utah and Washington. Once the advantages of photogrammetry for police work become known, it will become the standard across the board."