Geotagged Photos Guide Army Corps to Seeping Levees in Mississippi Floods

Thornton, Colorado, USA, 15 June 2011 – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Emergency Field Office in Lake Village, Ark., is relying on geotagged photos and photo-mapping software to help repair crews quickly reach the precise locations of levee seeps during the historic Mississippi River flooding of 2011.

USACE personnel are scouting the Mississippi River between Arkansas City and Eudora, Ark., to find evidence of water seeping under or through the levees. Each seep is photographed with a GPS-equipped Ricoh 500SE digital camera with built-in compass, which records the exact location of the seep and the direction from which the photo was taken. The photos are downloaded at the Emergency Field Office onto a computer running GPS-Photo Link software from GeoSpatial Experts

The GPS-Photo Link software automatically correlates the photos with the locations where they were taken. The software then maps the photos along with any attribute data collected as icons in their correct geographic locations on a digital map of the area. USACE engineers and technicians in the Lake Village emergency office view the locations of the seeps on the map, click on the icons to examine the photos in detail, and assess the seriousness of the breach. By viewing the size and location of the water seep, the experts determine if there is risk of a levee failure.

The visual information contained in the digital photographs enables USACE personnel to prioritize the order in which the seeps must be reinforced with sandbags or repaired. The latitude-longitude coordinates embedded in each photo allow dispatchers to send repair crews directly to the precise spots in the levees where the breaches have appeared.

The ability of a crew to quickly find the correct seep is essential to the efficiency of the operation because many of the emergency personnel working the Mississippi floods have been deployed from elsewhere and are unfamiliar with the area. The dispatcher simply provides coordinates to the crews so that in-vehicle GPS units navigate them to the site where the damage has occurred.

“The photos are also put into daily situation reports that are sent to the [USACE] District Office in Vicksburg,” said Brian Westfall, USACE Public Affairs Specialist. “Documentation of the seeps goes into a database that we will use in future floods to monitor where problems might occur again – history has a way of repeating itself in a flood zone.”

In addition, the geotagged photographs will be stored in the district GIS so that USACE engineers can analyze the performance of the levees during the 2011 floods and consider implementing permanent structural repairs once the water has receded. This will help prevent seeps and breaches in the future.

While GPS-Photo Link is used in conjunction with the Ricoh 500SE camera in the Mississippi flood mapping project, the photo-mapping software is compatible with any handheld GPS receiver and digital camera as well as some cell phones cameras with geotagging capabilities. The software can display the digital photos in most GIS and KML-based digital maps.

About GPS-Photo Link
Introduced in 2001 and marking its 10th anniversary, GPS-Photo Link has become the industry standard software for mapping photographs. Applications of photo-mapping software span the full spectrum of business users whose jobs require accurate photographic documentation of objects and features at a specific place and time. These applications include disaster response, infrastructure assessment, asset management, engineering, land management, surveying, utility mapping and law enforcement.