News on how the mapping community aided areas in the wake of terrorism, a brighter economic future, GIS Day 2001, and TSPS's conference.

This image is an overall view of LIDAR data collected over the World Trade Center on Sept. 19, 2001. Image courtesy of EarthData.

Mapping Community Aids Areas in Wake of Terrorism

The reality of an America touched by terrorism hit Mike Aslaksen, staff cartographer for the Remote Sensing Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s National Geodetic Survey (NOAA NGS), as he traveled toward Ground Zero shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Initially, it was shocking,” Aslaksen said. “I had traveled in that area quite a bit, and when heading north on the turnpike you come over a hill and you see the Center towers. When I didn’t see them, it hit hard.”

Fortunately, Aslaksen had the comfort of knowing he could do something to help. He was just one of many people in the surveying and mapping profession who utilized his skills to help support recovery and cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center site in New York and at the Pentagon.

The NOAA’s NGS aided efforts in New York and at the Pentagon, beginning on Sept. 15, 2001. NGS field survey personnel provided ground support and calibration expertise for airborne imaging sensors. Aslaksen and his team including Ed Carlson, Jason Woolard and Roy Anderson, established GPS base stations and a calibration site using static and kinematic survey techniques at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, across the Hudson River. Additional support was provided by the NGS CORS program. CORS is a network of continuously operating reference stations coordinated by the NGS that provide GPS carrier phase and code range measurements in support of 3-D positioning activities in the United States. CORS provided continuously operating GPS sites in New York to collect data for the remote sensing missions.

The NOAA Cessna Citation II jet mapped Ground Zero using aerial photography and LIDAR technology. Flights began on Sept. 23, 2001, and ended Oct. 15, 2001, each flight lasting about four hours. Initial flights over Ground Zero took place on Sept. 23 and 26, 2001, and were followed by three more missions in order to map the entire area of lower Manhattan.

The U.S. Army Joint Precision Strike Demonstration coordinated efforts among NOAA, Optech Incorporated (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and the University of Florida’s Civil and Coastal Engineering department. According to Don Carswell, president of Optech Incorporated, Optech provided Intelligent Laser Ranging System ILRIS-3D LIDAR technology at Ground Zero and ALTM LIDAR technology for the NOAA jet. Optech was also involved in surveying at the Pentagon. The University of Florida provided ground support to aid in manning GPS receivers and to help Optech process data, according to Mike Sartori, a Florida-licensed surveyor and mapper and a research coordinator for the University of Florida’s ALSM lab.

LIDAR data created digital surface models and accurate 3-D models of the building structures as well as the surrounding area. This helped to identify the rubble and its stability so that appropriate cranes could remove it.

Data collected by the LIDAR equipment also provided building and utility engineers with information to locate original foundation support structures, elevator shafts and basement storage areas, according to Jon Bailey, chief of the NGS remote sensing division. He said LIDAR equipment helped to monitor the seawall surrounding the base of Manhattan, which was a concern because damage could lead to flooding. NOAA’s jet also took high-resolution photos of Ground Zero, detailing the site and allowing recovery crews to see how far debris fell from it.

EarthData International also conducted LIDAR missions over Ground Zero under the direction of the New York State Office for Technology. EarthData, based in Washington, D.C., specializes in airborne imaging, mapping and GIS.

“They felt our technology would help to manage Ground Zero,” said Linda Harrington Baker, EarthData’s director of marketing and communications. “Within eight to 12 hours we had figured out a strategy for them and went to Albany in a Navajo Chieftain plane.”

EarthData conducted three different assignments for the New York State Office for Technology: Aerial LIDAR missions, digital imagery and thermal imagery. The first of several LIDAR missions began on Sept. 15, 2001, according to Bryan Logan, EarthData CEO. Missions continued daily until Oct. 23, 2001, with the exception of two or three days when poor weather suspended operations. The aerial missions were supported by the NOAA’s NGS base stations. LIDAR information helped to show the depth of the rubble and aided civil engineers in determining the stability of surrounding buildings.

Thermal imagery collected by EarthData helped firefighters to detect fires at Ground Zero. Aerial flights ran thermal sensors at dawn in order to avoid false positive readings by ground areas heated in the sun, according to Logan. The imagery showed where fires were and helped firefighters to get a clearer picture of where fires were spreading or receding. Digital orthophotography was taken later in the day.

Digital orthophotos helped create accurate maps to overlay upon existing New York city maps to help determine where gas and power lines were located. This helped to re-orient the area for rescue workers and firefighters in their cleanup and recovery efforts.

“Digital orthophotos showed pathways through the rubble, and they (rescue and recovery workers) could see they were making strides,” Harrington Baker said.

Working at Ground Zero stirred emotions, but Aslaksen said everyone stayed focused on the task at hand to aid those in need.

Brighter Economic Days Ahead, Analysts Say

The forecast for construction in 2002 may look dark as a thundercloud, but there’s a silver lining ahead according to leading construction economists and analysts.

Analysts gathered to discuss and assess North American construction forecasts at CMD’s annual North American Construction Forecast conference, held on Oct. 16, 2001 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. CMD is a provider of construction information products and services.

Construction industry analysts and economic forecasters predicted declines in construction activity and the economy in general for much of 2002, but foresaw a sunnier 2003 with a quick recovery likely.

The United States construction industry can expect an overall decline of 6.3 percent in activity in 2002 according to Bill Toal, chief economist for the Portland Cement Association. The downturn may not be as bad as it sounds, as “by historical contrast this would put construction spending back to slightly above 1998 levels, which were record levels of activity,” Toal said.

On the residential side, home sales are expected to decline by 8.5 percent in 2002. The decrease is expected because analysts anticipate that increased unemployment and stock market fluctuations will have a negative impact on consumers.

Toal said the decline in construction activity can be attributed to an economy that was weakening before the events of Sept. 11, 2001 gave it an extra push downward. Due to the terrorist attacks, Toal revised his overall economic growth rate predictions for 2002 to 1.8 percent down from his prior forecast of 2.7 percent. Although residential and nonresidential construction is expected to decline, public construction is predicted to grow slightly. However, the National Association of Home Builders’ Monthly Housing Market Index rose to 49 in November 2001, up two points from revised 47 index readings recorded in early October 2001 when the index reported its single largest monthly drop of nine points.

Toal and David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, both agreed that the construction industry will recover quickly. Toal predicted that the construction industry overall would see a 4.2 percent increase by 2003 and Seiders forecasted recovery for residential markets in the first quarter of 2002. Although 2002 may not begin with a bang, it is always darkest before dawn.

GIS Users Share Technology’s Many Applications on GIS Day 2001

What single event can tie government, education, environmental protection, land use, health care, firefighting, law enforcement—and many other fields—together in one day?

Answer: National GIS Day.

The goal of GIS Day is to celebrate the importance of GIS technology and the many ways in which it makes a contribution to daily life. On Nov. 14, 2001, GIS enthusiasts around the world showed individuals and organizations how geographic information applies to their lives. The annual event was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the Association of American Geographers, the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, the United States Geological Survey, the Library of Congress, Sun Microsystems and ESRI.

Fourteen states and five cities officially proclaimed GIS Day according to ESRI spokespeople. Events were held in cities and at schools all across the United States. At Rio Hondo College in Whittier, Calif., more than 250 students from La Serna, Pioneer and La Puente high schools, along with Rio Hondo students, attended seminars and participated in activities to learn about contributions GIS is making in public safety, engineering, drafting, oil and more. At the GIS Day 2001 website copyrighted by ESRI,, universities, schools, businesses and government entities in about 16 states posted plans for demonstrations, events and classroom activities.

GIS Day celebrations were also planned in other nations. The United Nations Development Programme and Khatib & Alami – Consolidated Engineering Company organized a conference on “Geography and the Conservation of Natural Resources” in Beirut, Lebanon. Approximately 150 experts and activists showcased projects and shared their knowledge. The Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon in Portugal hosted a website with a PowerPoint presentation on GIS in Portuguese. Universities, organizations, cities and businesses in the Philippines, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Poland and Hungary all planned events and demonstrations to celebrate the day.

ESRI and Sun Microsystems celebrated the day by introducing the first GISQuest, a free, multimedia, interactive mapping game with video and graphics that uses online GIS mapping resources to solve geographic quests. Games include learning to play by following the Lewis and Clark Expedition, tracking down a forest fire in the FireQuest Game, routing the presidential limosine from the White House to the Washington Hospital Center in RoadQuest, and discovering potential environmental dangers in HazardQuest. Those who complete the game receive a personalized GISQuest certificate. Anyone over age 12 can play at

National GIS Day 2001 was part of Geography Awareness Week, a week sponsored by the National Geographic Society since 1987. Geography Awareness Week 2001 was held from November 11-17, and was part of the National Geographic Society’s larger, year-long initiative, Geography Action! Geography Action! is an annual conservation and awareness program designed to educate people of all ages about natural, cultural and historic treasures as well as get them involved in hands-on conservation activities. The National Geographic Society begins this initiative each spring, and activity culminates during Geography Awareness week, when the results of how people took action are posted online at The 2001 Geography Action! focused on protecting and preserving rivers.

ESRI President Jack Dangermond summed up the important impact that GIS Day makes in creating greater awareness of the technology’s applications.

“GIS is being used today in thousands of unique applications, which touch each and every one of us,” Dangermond said. “GIS Day has become an eagerly anticipated event throughout our entire user community because it allows those people directly involved with the technology to share their knowledge, experiences and excitement with other members of their organizations and general public.”

The TSPS celebrated 50 years at its annual convention last October.

TSPS Celebrates 50th Anniversary at Historic-Themed Conference

Tropical plants, exotic fish, birds and butterflies at the Moody Gardens Hotel in Galveston, Texas, lent a tranquil feel to the atmosphere of historic charm surrounding the Texas Society of Professional Surveyors (TSPS) annual convention, held Oct. 16-20, 2001.

The event marked the 50th anniversary of TSPS, which began in 1951 as the Texas Surveyors’ Association. The historic flavor of the convention harmonized well with its setting: Galveston has a rich history of its own, boasting 12 historical museums and hundreds of official historical markers.

The national organizations American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) and National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) participated jointly in the conference, holding a number of committee meetings at the convention.

The 900-plus conference attendees enjoyed a full slate of educational sessions, many of which featured nationally known speakers and offered Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying-approved continuing education credits. Sessions included Preparation for Court; Surveying In the Valley of the Kings; Surveying and Positioning in the Marine Environment; Coastal (Littoral) Boundaries; and a mock trial. POB sponsored the four-hour session Texas GIS and Geospatial Technology presented by Rob Aanstoos, Mike Ouimet, and Jeff Meyerson.

The conference also featured an exhibit floor showcasing almost 100 booths.

“A number of participants introduced themselves and enthusiastically endorsed that discussion board venue for surveyors,” said Jerry McGray, POB’s editorial director, who manned the magazine’s booth.

In addition to impressive displays by the equipment and software manufacturers, a number of booths included a variety of historical surveying artifacts, in keeping with the historical theme. Extracurricular activities also had a historical theme. Many attendees took a tour of Galveston’s pier area and the historic Strand.

The TSPS convention ranks as one of the largest and most extensive state shows in the nation.

POB editors compiled this month's stories for “The Latest News.” If you have a timely, newsworthy item, contact 248/244-6465 or E-mail Also visit for daily news updates.