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North Carolina is using a $12.3 million grant to fund a statewide aerial photography project that will give emergency responders a common operating picture.

In 2009, the North Carolina 911 Board awarded the grant to the Durham Emergency Communications Center on behalf of all counties for the NC Statewide Orthoimagery 2010 project, which will provide aerial images to 100 counties. According to a state report, the grant included the “acquisition of high-resolution aerial photos from digital cameras, processing into images that fit the Earth with accurate distances between features, quality control, packaging for delivery to all 100 counties and online public access.” Orthoimagery is used as reference points for locating calls to 911 centers.

Though individual counties have previously obtained funding for orthoimagery, Tim Johnson, director of the Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, which manages the project, said it’s an unprecedented occurrence on a regional or statewide level.

“This was the first time that something of this magnitude was funded by the 911 Board to include the entire state,” Johnson said.

Having a statewide project as opposed to creating one for each county should result in significant cost savings, Johnson said. For example, if two neighboring counties are working on separate projects, the potential for overlapping data collection increases since counties often fly over county line to take photographs. With an integrated project, however, data redundancy is eliminated, and time and money is saved.

Before the project started, orthoimagery was inconsistent and patchy. Some counties had more recent orthoimagery than others, Johnson said. If a county with updated information was located next to a county with out-of-date orthoimagery, it created a disjointed environment for those responding to 911 calls. In some cases, crucial aerial images weren’t available when emergency personnel responded to a 911 call.

“We’ve heard of instances where a call was coming in from an address related to the fire, but there was no fire,” Johnson said. “There was no house showing up on the imagery where the fire was supposed to be occurring.”

Images acquired for the project will help 911 centers respond during emergencies, said James Soukup, director of the Durham Emergency Communications Center. “Location is the most critical piece of information in a 911 call,” Soukup said. “Consistent statewide data ensures that all North Carolina residents will be better served by this project.”

The Center for Geographic Information and Analysis gathered the aerial images during January through April 2010. The images will then be delivered to the counties by the end of this month, according to NC OneMap, a geospatial data resource website affiliated with the project.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.