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3-D mapping can help predict course of a flood or other... - 9/7/2005 6:41:46 PM   

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Firm's technology could save lives. Emergency officials have tools to foresee vulnerability of hospitals to high waters

Water rages into the streets of a major city and gradually rises until some buildings disappear and only the roofs of others are visible.

In this case, on the computer screen in the offices of Vancouver-based mapping company Aero Geometrics Ltd., the city core slowly disappearing beneath the floodwaters is Miami.

But it could just as easily be New Orleans or Gulfport or Biloxi or Bay Saint Louis, company president Tim Daly said.

He is demonstrating on his computer monitor - as he turns and twists the image of downtown Miami to show the flow of water from all angles from overhead to ground level - how his firm's new 3-D mapping technology could be used to predict the evolution of a disaster and perhaps help to save lives.

In the case of New Orleans, Daly said, such 3-D technology - licensed from another Vancouver company, NGRAIN - could have allowed officials to simulate the breaking of a levee and be able to predict where the water would flow, according to the varying terrain, over the next few hours.

"They could have watched in virtual real time as the water flooded New Orleans," Daly said. "They would have been able to appreciate where the impact would have been greatest and first, so it's a time issue."

Officials would also be able to see how vulnerable key buildings, like hospitals, would be to flooding.

The 3-D image would also show what would happen if another levee and then another, broke as well.

"The beauty of this system is it works in real time," Daly said, whose company has been in the aerial mapping business for 30 years.

Other systems would take hours or weeks or months to generate, said Daly. The NGRAIN technology is interactive as well.

The original use of the technology was to help mechanics in the U.S. air force repair F-16 fighter jet engines with 16,000 moving parts, Daly said.

Even so, those files, which originally amounted to 300 gigabytes of data, could be reduced to NGRAIN files of just 10 megabytes.

And the files can be embedded and run inside Microsoft PowerPoint or Word. That means that officials at several different locations could each easily have a simulation file and be able to look at it and discuss what was happening over the Internet, Daly said.

Aero Geometrics, which does business both with private enterprise and government, has many different uses for the 3-D images it can produce.

Just before the invasion of Iraq, the company worked on a map of Baghdad because the U.S. army wanted to know where in the city it would be safe and unsafe for a soldier to stand.

Daly foresees a day when the technology might also be used in such disasters as an oil spill.

In that case, those handling the spill could get an instant look in 3-D at just where the oil would flow and where it would end up.

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