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South Dakotans Manage Disasters With GeoSpatial Experts Geotagging Software

The photo-mapping process, known as geotagging, uses GPS-Photo Link software and the GPS-enabled Ricoh 500SE camera.

Brown County, S.D., faces periodic spring flooding from snowmelt and heavy rains. So the county sometimes has to request federal disaster aid and explain exactly what the damage its.

These requests rely on GPS-enabled digital cameras and photo-mapping software. The photo-mapping process, known as geotagging, uses GPS-Photo Link software from GeoSpatial Experts and the GPS-enabled Ricoh 500SE camera.

As flood waters move across the Brown County, officials acquire digital photos by air and by land with Ricoh 500SE cameras. A GPS receiver built onto each camera stamps the photos with precise coordinates of where each picture was taken. And a magnetic compass attached to the camera records the direction from which each photo was acquired.

The photos are uploaded along with their location data onto computers at the Brown County Emergency Operations Center. The GPS-Photo Link software automatically displays the photos in their correct geographic locations on a digital map of the county, either in a GIS or Google Earth environment.

County officials examine the photos to assess the damage and determine where emergency response teams should be deployed, according to Scott Madsen, county GIS coordinator. The location coordinates on the photos help the responders quickly navigate back to those hardest hit areas. In addition, the county’s emergency management director relies on the mapped photos to see where floodwaters are headed so that resources can be sent downstream to warn the public and protect vital infrastructure.

Brown County has also discovered the geotagged photos are crucial for speeding their applications for disaster assistance from FEMA. Federal officials typically arrive to make their formal assessments after the floodwaters have receded. The time- and location-stamped photos, however, provide them with exact records of the extent of damage that occurred in specific locations.

“When [FEMA] comes in to decide whether to declare a disaster for federal funding, they need to have documentation,” said Madsen. “They want to look at specific infrastructure damage…to put a dollar figure on it.”

Brown County has purchased additional GPS-enabled Ricoh cameras with magnetic compass modules for use in other county departments. Most notably, the county’s Zoning Department uses the cameras to document zoning violations and conduct site inspections.

The photo-mapping software is compatible with any handheld GPS receiver and digital camera as well as some cell phones cameras with geotagging capabilities. GeoSpatial Experts offers GPS-Photo Link in two editions: GPS-Photo Link GIS Pro for geospatial professionals mapping their photos in a true GIS environment, and GPS-Photo Link Express for business users who map photos on a digital or Web-based map and generate reports from their photo inventories.

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