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A year and a half before the sea rushed in, cameras protruding from low-lying Cessna aircraft captured eagle-eye images of every square foot of New Orleans from every direction.
The same aerial-mapping technology helped firefighters quickly size up the damage when a jetliner slammed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. And police in Atlanta were able to scrutinize the layout of an apartment complex where suspected gunman Brian Nichols retreated after a courthouse rampage in March 2005.
Instead of just the straight-down views that distant satellites gather, a small company called Pictometry International Corp. has developed an oblique-imaging, geo-spatial system to snap vast swaths of America's varied landscape at a 40-degree angle from a few thousand feet in the air.
At the click of a mouse, its unique measuring software can dissect the longitude, latitude, elevation and precise dimensions of every discernible landmark, from fire hydrants in Chicago to lilac trees in Rochester to the levees of New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina.
The graphical tapestries are finding a panorama of uses, notably in the realm of public safety.