Dayton firm using 3-D mapping to aid Hurricane Sandy recovery

A Dayton-area engineering and design services firm is using three-dimensional laser mapping technology to help a number of New York and New Jersey coastal communities plan a smart recovery from the destruction of Hurricane Sandy.

Beavercreek-based Woolpert Inc. is taking part in a Rutgers University project to collect 3-D visual data of hurricane-ravaged areas using geospatial mapping technology, company officials said. The data will be used as resource to identify damaged objects and plan the reconstruction.

Woolpert employees collected the data in early December using company’s mobile LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) system, a moving vehicle that emits an eye-safe laser capable of capturing 1 million data points per second, said Brad Adams, Woolpert’s practice leader for civil works. That information is then used to create a highly accurate 3-D visual representation of the area called a “point cloud” that can be rotated and viewed from multiple angles on a computer screen, he said.

“This is the first time anywhere that this technology has been used for disaster recovery,” said Jeff Lovin, Woolpert’s director of geospatial services.

Founded in 1911 in Dayton, Woolpert provides professional design, geospatial and infrastructure services to both public and private sector clients, including the U.S. Air Force and Google. The company, which moved to Greene County in 2007, is ranked by Engineering News-Record as a top national design firm.

Woolpert’s annual gross revenue for 2012 was $119 million, Lovin said. The company has 623 employees at 22 U.S. offices, including 177 at its Beavercreek headquarters.

Woolpert is a pioneer in using mobile LiDAR as a mapping and surveying tool. The technology can map physical objects with engineering-grade accuracy, recording everything from buildings to tree leaves in their exact position in space, “without putting our surveyors in harm’s way,” Adams said.

The 3-D point clouds can be stitched together and analyzed to identify damaged objects and determine how different materials handle storm damage. The data provides a comprehensive view of the surveyed area, allowing engineers to accurately measure where objects and structures were expected to be versus their location after the hurricane.

“Rutgers was able to measure from the edge of the foundation to where the home sits now,” Adams said.

Rutgers incurred the cost for Woolpert’s three-member survey team to map six Jersey Shore communities using the company’s $1 million mobile LiDAR system. Those areas included Seaside Heights, where Sandy swept the town’s famous roller coaster into the Atlantic Ocean.

“We did the entire project at cost, without any other fees built into it,” Adams said.

The company also worked with the New York City Division of Design and Construction to collect data from Rockaway and Staten Island for reconstruction efforts in those areas, he said.

Mobile LiDAR is more commonly used to survey roadways without slowing or restricting traffic, Adams said. The point cloud data can be used to analyze roads for reconstruction projects, or to identify obstacles such as trees or overhead wires for companies that want to transport over-sized loads.

“An engineer can do a redesign of the roadway and have a site visit while he is sitting behind his desk looking at the data we provide,” Adams said.

Currently, Woolpert is using its mobile LiDAR system to complete a street sign inventory for the city of Indianapolis. That point cloud data can later be used for roadway or waste-water system reconstruction.

“The idea is map it once, use it many times,” Lovin said.

Woolpert has been collecting LiDAR data from aircraft for more than a decade, using the technology to map large areas including the entire state of Ohio. The Ohio Statewide Imagery Program was a $1.6 million project funded by a number of state agencies and federal partners, Lovin said.

That data, collected from 2007-2009, has been distributed by the state for free to may Ohio counties and communities for use in tax assessment, flood plain monitoring and other applications, he said.

Columbus is using the state LiDAR data to calculate storm water runoff on large commercial parking areas to accurately assess storm water fees, Lovin said. The data also is being analyzed to assess about 750 square miles in Northeast Ohio to identify roof tops with the best potential for solar energy panel placement.

“We have used this data for years to define 3-D space to design something thinking of topography, or building a road or a structure,” Lovin said. “These are great, new, exciting uses of this type of data.”

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