By providing a clearer, regional picture of the natural and manmade environment, Harris’ Geiger-mode LiDAR data is helping officials in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties in California make more confident decisions in a cost-effective manner.

Today’s important decisions about city expansions, emergency preparedness, utilities and asset management, and other long-range planning activities often require a comprehensive look at not only the specific area of concern, but also adjacent areas to properly evaluate impacts. Light-detecting and ranging (LiDAR) elevation data has become an essential tool to helping us gain a general understanding of the physical landscape for planning and infrastructure development. But traditional LiDAR offers limited resolution, so important details are often lacking, and the cost to mobilize aircraft for wide-area collections can be cost prohibitive, particularly for smaller local governments.

To address this challenge, the Channel Islands Regional GIS Collaborative (CIRGIS) recently partnered with Harris for a project that is bringing next-generation geospatial data to its stakeholders. And the results bring significant long-term impacts.

Problem: A Puzzle with Missing Pieces

Typically, individual cities and counties collect LiDAR data on a project-specific basis, constrained by available funding. CIRGIS, a nonprofit public benefit corporation, provides a forum for agencies in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and surrounding areas to collaborate on spatial data acquisition projects, community meetings, and geospatial technology educational opportunities. Over the years, CIRGIS’ member agencies have collected geospatial survey data, or point clouds, across myriad infrastructure design and planning projects.

However, when the data was compiled, members found what most local and state government agencies face: large areas where data has never been collected, inconsistent resolution quality (number of points per square meter) for areas that have been collected, and data conflicts resulting from project-specific collections taken at different times. (Events like erosion and flooding, new road construction, and expanding community footprints physically change the earth’s surface.)  The result was like a puzzle with missing pieces.

Solution: Faster, High-resolution Regional Collections with Geiger-mode LiDAR

To fill those data gaps and resolve inconsistencies for its stakeholders, CIRGIS partnered with Harris, whose revolutionary Geiger-mode LiDAR technology enables the company to collect LiDAR data faster by flying at a greater altitude and in point clouds that result in a much higher resolution data than possible with traditional LiDAR systems. Harris collected elevation data for more than 700 square miles over the southern part of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, which CIRGIS in turn provided to its stakeholders. According to the then-CIRGIS LiDAR Project Manager, Hassan Kasraie, the price per square mile for CIRGIS’ collection was less than half of what it would have been with independent acquisitions for each city due to Harris’ wide-area Geiger-mode LiDAR collection capabilities and the joint procurement effort across the collaborative.

Equally important is the increased value of the geospatial data the stakeholders now have. Harris’ Geiger-mode LiDAR collects data at a much higher resolution, up to 30 points per square meter, enabling users to see the terrain in greater detail and answer a wide range of questions, such as: How many homes will be impacted by flooding if a river rises above its bank? Where are the light posts located across the town? How tall are they? Is the crown of a road sufficient to prevent stormwater accumulation?

Impact: One Collection, Many Uses

The Harris-collected elevation data is the foundation for common regional base maps and can be used to create digital models for numerous applications. For example, multiple departments in the City of Fillmore are using the data to complete a general plan buildout of the city, extract building footprints, and gain understanding of stormwater runoff that could cause flooding. The level of detail from the high-resolution LiDAR is also providing important insights to better understand a long-term and costly concern for the city: stormwater seeping into the sewer system. Having to treat increasingly higher volumes of water passing through the system has required more and more city funds.  The high-resolution LiDAR data provides the information engineers need to identify the high elevation areas where the stormwater was flowing into the sewer so they could design improvements to correct the issue.

“Initiatives like the CIRGIS-Harris partnership can have a real and lasting impact for local and state governments,” says Erik Arvesen, vice president and general manager of Harris Geospatial Solutions. “With our Geiger-mode LiDAR, we can cost-effectively make a single wide-area data collection that also delivers elevation data with an unprecedented resolution to provide users with a more complete picture than they’ve ever had.”