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Aerial Imagery Helps County, City Manage COVID-19 Response

Up-to-date GIS data from Nearmap has helped Melrose, Mass., and Hudson County, N.J., deliver COVID-19 supplies, educate the public about testing sites, and track COVID-19 cases and deaths.

by Jim McKay / March 19, 2021
An aerial image of a Washington state neighborhood. Nearmap

When the city of Melrose, Mass., acquired 63,000 masks in May 2020 — a time when masks were coveted — the city set about figuring out how to fulfill Mayor Paul Brodeur’s commitment of getting a mask in the hands of every resident within three days. 

The city put Census records, voting records, assessment data, even dog licenses into a database and cross-referenced the data with aerial imagery to identify homes and apartments and create maps with routes for volunteers to deliver the masks to help thwart the spread of COVID-19

“We used the aerial imagery to safely schedule volunteers to come into public buildings to pick up masks for deliveries as well as deploy different groups of people who were either stuffing masks into bags or dropping them off to residents,” Chris Wilcock, chief assessor and director of GIS for Melrose, said in an email.  

Wilcock said the aerial imagery, done by Nearmap, was critical to ensuring efficient, accurate delivery of the masks. “When we received calls from residents of large apartment complexes, for example, we were able to look up the area and see who was in charge of delivering those specific masks, identify when they were delivered and tell residents exactly where within the complex the masks had been dropped off,” he wrote. 

Wilcock added that mapping is never going to be 100 percent accurate, but the imagery is when it’s relatively current. As it happened, the city had just taken some new imagery a couple of months prior to delivering the masks, replacing imagery that was about five years old. In some areas, there was no imagery prior to Nearmap’s new contributions last year.  

“Without it, I’d have been out on the road, onsite, managing volunteers, and it would have taken a lot longer,” Wilcock said.  

The imagery came in handy also in Hudson County, N.J., which had just signed on with Nearmap early last year when COVID-19 hit. “We quickly built a new website to track COVID cases and deaths, and provide critical information about testing centers and other resources using GIS data to integrate aerial imagery and mapping to help educate the population and ease the fear of the unknown,” said Daryl Krasnuk, director of Hudson County’s Office of Digital Information. 

Nearmap made three flights over Hudson County to update the imagery, one in March as COVID-19 was taking hold, one in the summer and another in the fall. The original intent was to provide data on county parks and amenities and help with regional studies being conducted by the Division of Planning. 

The images help agencies collaborate on projects involving GIS mapping and offer a common language that crosses agency boundaries. 

“Not everyone is a GIS specialist, but you can look at an image and know what you’re looking at, so that has provided a common operating language," said Nearmap’s Director of North America Brett Clark. “You can use it to plan things such as mobile vaccination sites, social distancing. We’ve seen places where they have drawn circles with spray paint in parks so people can be properly spaced.”

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