Before participating in a high-risk mission, law enforcement personnel must gather detailed information about the target location they will enter. They need to see details that include points of entry and hazards or potential hiding places outside the home. Yet these details may be indiscernible without aerial imagery that offers a real-world perspective.

Critical domestic incidents and international theaters of operation require technology that provides command elements with situational awareness. Active duty personnel need access to high-quality, up-to-date imagery of the village they patrol. Likewise, first responders and emergency personnel rely on detailed imagery for proper response coordination, especially following catastrophic natural disasters and events related to terrorism.

In recent decades, aerial imagery has become a staple for local and federal government agencies. Today, satellites, fixed-wing aircraft, and unmanned aerial systems (drones) are capable of collecting such imagery from an orthogonal, or top-down, perspective.

Orthogonal imagery is used in disaster relief efforts, the prediction of potential natural disaster locations, the identification of watershed and drainage issues, flood mapping analysis, and infrastructure monitoring. This same imagery enables military forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan to more easily identify enemy targets.

Though orthogonal imagery has proven useful to first responders and the armed forces, it has some weaknesses. Perspective in orthogonal imagery can be confusing to end users who are not image analysts because the images are captured looking straight down. As a result, only the roofs of buildings can be viewed, with no perspective on building height and other features.

Difficulties related to object recognition in orthogonal imagery result in a lack of actionable intelligence for first responders or military personnel deployed to conflict zones. A soldier on patrol in a village would extrapolate limited information from an orthogonal image and may fail to answer critical questions such as:

  • What is the height of one building in relation to another?
  • How high is the brick wall separating residences from roads and pathways?
  • Where might an enemy shooter find the high ground on top of a structure?
  • Is a wall high enough to protect a vehicle or a patrol from a potential blast or rocket attack?

Location information is pertinent to the safety and planning of a domestic or international mission. The loss of perspective seen in orthogonal imagery is a problem that can be solved.

Military and law enforcement personnel have discovered that oblique aerial imagery provides a viable solution to these challenges. Oblique imagery can be captured using the same platforms as orthogonal imagery, but instead of looking straight down, the sensor is angled at 40 to 45 degrees in order to capture a more natural perspective. 

Let’s revisit the example of a law enforcement officer evaluating a target location. Oblique imagery makes object recognition easier and would enable personnel to spot these features. With imagery captured at an ultra-high-resolution, the officer would be able to recognize fine details, such as the locations of door handles on every visible point of entry.

Sgt. Shaun Welch, a police officer from Webster, N.Y., has used oblique imagery in operations similar to the one described above for years. “There is nothing better,” Welch said of the imagery. “I can see and relate to situations better with it.”

Similarly, the soldier patrolling a foreign village now has insight into the heights of buildings and walls. He or she can also accurately model threat scenarios using measurement tools in geographic information systems (GIS) software to analyze the trajectory of objects seen in the imagery.

For emergency personnel responding to natural disasters, having the ability to quickly assess damage is essential, and imagery plays a key role in recovery from such events. The critical information necessary in a post-disaster scenario—such as property conditions, roadway obstacles, and damage to infrastructure—can be derived instantly from oblique imagery.

Oblique imagery is readily available from commercial enterprises to most local governments. Currently, thousands of towns, cities, counties, and other municipalities throughout North America use this type of imagery in day-to-day operations.

This technology can and should be made available to first responders and armed forces currently engaged in combat. Further, these innovations are becoming more sophisticated every year. Fixed-wing aircraft now capture ultra-high-resolution oblique imagery, and unmanned aerial systems are flying in theaters of operation and following increasingly catastrophic natural disasters.

Oblique imagery can increase the safety and effectiveness of emergency and military personnel. It can be collected in real time and rapidly transported to users who need it most. This solution saves precious time and answers critical questions for those risking their lives in dangerous situations both domestically and internationally.

Headline Image: By analyzing and annotating oblique imagery, personnel planning critical operations have the ability to see points of entry, measure distances and trajectory, and identify multiple routes to a location. Courtesy of EagleView.

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Posted by Philip McTigue, federal programs director, EagleView