Last updated: February 19. 2013 5:37PM - 690 Views

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New aerial photography will help Luzerne County assessors and emergency responders do their jobs better, officials say, and it will come at no cost to the cash-strapped county.

Workers from a New York company will fly over Luzerne County photographing every structure from four directions this spring before leaves obscure the view.

Several county government departments are eagerly awaiting the resulting new maps to improve emergency response, planning and tax assessment. The county's last aerial photography was in 2008, and it didn't include images of structures from multiple angles.

Luzerne County Mapping/GIS Director Dave Skoronski announced the flyover plans to county council during his budget presentation Wednesday.

We are in dire need of new aerial photography, he told council.

The project won't tap the county's strapped general fund because the Eastern Central Pennsylvania Regional Task Force approved the contract with Rochester-based Pictometry International Corp. for Luzerne and six other counties.

The task force, which focuses on hazard planning and response, will use hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds allocated through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to cover the cost of photography and maps.

Skoronski estimates a flyover would otherwise cost the county $100,000.

Police and firefighters can use the images of a building from all vantage points to plan how they'll enter a structure or take positions outside during an emergency, said county Emergency Management Agency Director Steve Bekanich.

If a truck containing hazardous material crashes, Bekanich's office can quickly pinpoint every structure that must be evacuated within a specified radius instead of estimating, he said.

The new data also could be meshed with maps projecting areas that flood as the Susquehanna River rises in various stages to prepare residents, particularly newcomers, he said.

The primary reason this purchase was made was for us to have a better planning tool to respond to emergency situations, but there are so many other agencies and departments that will benefit, Bekanich said.

County Assessment Director Tony Alu wants to use the photographs to identify property additions and other new construction that escaped taxation, possibly because building permits were never secured or forwarded to his office to trigger a field visit.

Assessor's offices increasingly rely on periodic flyovers so they don't waste manpower and fuel searching for missed properties, he said.

I think down the line we're going to do more from desks and less on the road, but we will always have to have some field appraisers to do in-person visual inspections, he said.

Industry standards recommend one field assessor per 10,000 properties, he said. Alu's office has six for 168,000 properties, and one of those may be furloughed.

County 911 will load the new property photos into its computer-aided dispatch system so current images are used to guide emergency responders, said 911 Executive Director Dave Parsnik.

Dispatchers send aerial maps to responders with laptops and Internet connections highlighting the location of a caller, including revised maps when cell phone callers are on the move for safety reasons or to follow a crime suspect, he said.

The present system is based on the 2008 flyover mapping data, which means newer structures and roadways may be missing, he said.

Bekanich said the new aerial images should be delivered to the county about a month after the flyover.

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