16 March 2002



Group Helps to Map Rubble ; Institute, Sponsored by NASA, Works With Aerial Images of NYC Disaster.
The Post - Standard; Syracuse, N.Y.; Sep 26, 2001; Copyright Syracuse Newspapers, Inc.
Dave Tobin Staff writer

The walls of a meeting room at Cayuga Community College are papered with 4-foot-wide, black-and-white "photographs" that look all too familiar in their strangeness: aerial views of the World Trade Center rubble, taken with laser and high-resolution digital instruments from an airplane at 5,000 feet.

Around a table, Cayuga County emergency personnel share their observations about the photographs with computer technicians and geospatial experts.

Hundreds of miles from the fray of ground zero, they are trying to help, in an unusual meeting of the minds at The Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technology at Cayuga Community College, formerly known as NASA's Regional Applications Center for the Northeast.

The institute, sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is the first in the United States dedicated to serving local and state governments.

Days after the attacks at the World Trade Center, Bob Brower, the institute's director, was asked by the state Office for Technology to help "clean up" and manipulate the laser and high-resolution digital images that were being taken daily of the disaster site, so they could be presented in briefings to state, federal and New York City officials.

Additionally, he was asked to help look for new applications of existing geospatial technology that could assist future disaster recovery teams. So for several days last week, Brower met with representatives from the Cayuga County Sheriff's Department, the Auburn police and fire departments, the Cayuga County fire coordinator, county health and planning departments and others, to pick their brains.

High-resolution digital images and laser and thermal images are being taken daily over the World Trade Center site by a private flight contractor that has been cleared with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Brower's institute team, with the help of a NASA scientist, works the data into two-dimensional images that can be easily read, and three-dimensional "flyovers" of the disaster site. Using a commercial software called Skyline, planners can do a virtual helicopter flyover of the site, "hovering" over an area to study it - circling around debris, zooming in to see things more closely.

Laser images capture the exact topography or height of rubble, to within 6 inches. High-resolution images present the surface, as in a photograph. The combination of data from the two images makes the information precise.

"How would this be applicable if you were there?" asked Steve Darcangelo, the institute's operations manager. He asked the question as emergency personnel were being shown a computer presentation of the virtual flyover.

Over the course of the week's meetings, local emergency personnel pointed out the importance of knowing the exact dimensions of cleared ground to provide access for emergency vehicles, following the movement of smoke or gas plumes, noting shifting in unstable buildings, tracking fires (using thermal imagery) and overlaying images from utility maps.

Brower said the help of Cayuga County emergency and police personnel was invaluable.

"They helped us start to think like the people in the relief effort have to think," he said.