NOAA app delivers aerial, satellite imagery to mobile devices

Emergency crews responding to major natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes now have access to a Web application that delivers aerial and satellite imagery of the area to their smart phones and tablet computers.

The prototype application was created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Geodetic Survey. The publicly accessible application currently provides access to NOAA imagery taken during Hurricane Irene and the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., on May 22.

NOAA collected some 1,500 images on the first day of Irene for storm damage assessments. 

The application runs on iOS, Android, and BlackBerry smart phones and tablets. The Web version of the tool can be viewed with Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and other WebKit-based browsers. However, it doesn’t work with Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. 

Beta versions of the application were used during the tornado in Joplin and Hurricane Irene, said Michael Aslaksen, chief of NOAA’s Remote Sensing Division. The site can provide layers of geo-referenced imagery, which can be overlaid onto existing data. During Irene, first responders used it to evaluate how much equipment they needed to bring in to repair washed-out roads, he said. 

NOAA developed the application, based on standards from the Open Geospatial Consortium, in-house in 2010. In its current form, the prototype application can provide imagery to ground teams within 12 hours of arriving on-site. Users can swipe images to view pre- and post-event views of an area, he said. 

One of the ultimate goals for the application is to be able to collect and send images to user’s handsets in real time, Aslaksen said. That could help, for example, when navigation by road is difficult in the wake of a major storm.

The application can already provide a variety of layered data, such as basic aerial and satellite images of an area before and after a storm, geospatial location data and structural information about known damage to buildings. Aside from NOAA’s application, he said, geospatial overlay is a development trend for government first-responder geospatial imagery tools.  

In addition to emergency response, Aslaksen said, NOAA coastal zone management teams use the application to monitor beach erosion.

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