Florida gets technical with evacuation maps

Project will use light detection data to estimate storm surge depths

Florida emergency management officials have started a mapping project to update regional evacuation studies.

The Florida Coastal Mapping project combines data collection with disaster preparedness by collecting Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data — which uses light detection to capture information — for coastal counties. The data could be run through a computerized model to estimate storm surge depths from hurricanes and used to develop new regional evacuation plans, according to a story in GovTech.

In Florida, many regions’ hurricane evacuation studies haven’t been updated since the 1990s, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s (FDEM) website. The agency plans to use the new information gathered from the mapping project to refresh the State Regional Evacuation Studies by the end of the year, the Government Technology article states.

“The State Regional Evacuation Studies will be used by every emergency management entity in Florida as the basis for developing evacuation and protective measure plans, shelter planning and identifying coastal high hazards zones,” FDEM spokeswoman Lauren McKeague wrote in an e-mail to Government Technology

“Additionally the studies will be used by all the state’s growth management agencies to identify impacts to public safety plans and to address growth management standards put in place by the Florida Legislature, including traffic and other future land use planning.”

The new LIDAR data will also be available to other agencies in need of quality land contour data, according to McKeague.

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The next step is for the local emergency managers to incorporate data from the mapping project into their planning. The information can be run through the Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes computerized model that evaluates the threats from a hurricane storm surge and tells officials which areas need to be evacuated.

Organizations are finding other ways to use LIDAR data such as to measure carbon cycles and predict forest fires. For example, scientists have developed the world’s first global forest height data map using satellite data from NASA.

Michael Lefsky of Colorado State University created the map using data collected by NASA's ICESat, Terra, and Aqua satellites. The map will be used to determine how much carbon the world’s forests store and how fast that carbon cycles through ecosystems and back into the atmosphere. It also will help scientists predict the spread and behavior of fires and understand the suitability of species to specific forests.

To create the map, Lefsky combined data collected from LIDAR laser technology and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, a satellite instrument aboard both the Terra and Aqua satellites.

LIDAR uses laser pulses to determine distance -- in this case, the distance between the ground and the top of the trees.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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