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PE and RS PUBLIC February 2013 : Page-105

THE BENEFITS OF IMPROVED NATIONAL ELEVATION DATA By Gregory I. Snyder Introduction Elevation data are essential for flood hazard mitigation, agricultural productivity, infrastructure and energy development, resource conser-vation, national security, and many other applications. Today, under the leadership of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Digi-tal Elevation Program (NDEP), an interagency coordination committee established in 2000, Federal agencies, State agencies, and others work together to acquire high-quality elevation data for the United States and its territories. New elevation data are acquired using modern technology to replace elevation data that are, on average, more than 30 years old. Through the efforts of the NDEP, a project-by-project data acquisition approach has resulted in improved, publicly available data for less than 30 percent of the United States. Although the program operates efficiently, the rate of data collection and the accuracy of new data being collected are insufficient to fully address the majority of government, private sector, and other organization needs. To develop strategies to better meet national elevation data needs, a National Enhanced Elevation Assessment (NEEA) was conducted to (1) document national-level requirements for improved elevation data, (2) estimate the benefits and costs of meeting those requirements, and (3) evaluate new, national-level elevation program models. The assessment was sponsored by the NDEP’s member agencies and was completed in December of 2011. The study participants came from 34 Federal agencies, agencies from all 50 States, selected local government and Tribal offices, and private and not-for-profit organi-zations. A total of 602 mission-critical activities were identified that need significantly more accurate data than are currently available. The results of the assessment indicate that enhanced elevation data have PHOTOGRAMMETRIC ENGINEERING & REMOTE SENSING the potential to generate $13 billion annually in new national benefits to public and private sector organizations and citizens. This article provides an overview of the NEEA findings, including examples of key Federal, State and private sector applications, a de-scription of national elevation program alternatives, and some eleva-tion technology trends. Included is a description of a new elevation program initiative developed in response to the NEEA findings. The material presented in this article was selected or excerpted from the NEEA report and related USGS Fact Sheets (Dewberry, 2011; Snyder, 2012a; Snyder, 2012b). Readers are encouraged to consult these sources for a full description of the topics presented herein. Requirements for Enhanced Elevation Data NEEA documented elevation requirements through online surveys and (or) structured interviews with participating organizations. Require-ments for improved elevation within each organization were described in terms of data accuracy, refresh cycle, and geographic area of inter-est, along with the expected benefits that would result from meeting these requirements. To facilitate the data analysis, the results of the survey and interviews were sorted into predefined business uses. Table 1 summarizes expected dollar benefits for the top 10 business uses. These benefits (Table 1) represent the value of the cost savings and increased productivity for the responding organizations or for the customers who use their services. Example of business activities where improved elevation data would benefit Federal, State, and industry organizations are as follows: continued on page 106 Februar y 2013 105

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