Easton councilman says city’s 3D mapping gadget will help save lives

Reconstructing a car crash is painstaking work for police officers.

It can take hours to compile data, such as the distance between a skid mark and the spot where a wrecked car stopped.

The hours it takes for police to take measurements means hours of stopped traffic. And the longer traffic is stopped, the more likely a secondary crash can occur, according to Easton councilman Roger Ruggles.

Now the police and fire departments will have a new device that can cut those hours down to a few minutes.

The city received a $348,000 grant to purchase a LIDAR 3D mapping system. The Light Detection and Ranging system uses pulsed lasers to measure distances. In the 30 seconds it takes a human to physically measure a distance, the LIDAR can make millions of measurements.

Ruggles said odds are likely a secondary accident will happen within 30 minutes after traffic is stopped.

“That accident can cause injuries or even a fatality,” Ruggles said. “Being able to clear these accidents quickly is very important.”

The Easton police and fire departments will share a LIDAR terrestrial device and drone device. The LIDAR provides a 3D map you can view from any vantage point. The devices haven’t arrived in Easton, but Ruggles borrowed one from Lafayette College and used it to map the city council chambers on Thursday. He said the rough black-and-white image that took about three minutes to generate can be processed to add color.

Easton councilman Roger Ruggles used a LIDAR device to create a 3D map of the council chambers on Aug. 26, 2022. The Easton police and fire departments are getting LIDAR through a federal grantRudy Miller | For lehighvalleylive.com

Another advantage of LIDAR: the police can use it without standing in the middle of the road.

“Getting those first responders out of the traffic area is a very important thing,” Ruggles said.

Police will use LIDAR to map crime scenes and the fire department will use it to map fire scenes. It measures distances accurately to within an eighth of an inch. Investigators can go back any time and look at the 3D map of an area long after the crime or fire took place.

“The implementation of LIDAR is going to save lives and reduce injuries. It’s going to provide investigators an incredible tool to conduct their work,” Ruggles said.

He said police can use it to map the sites of frequent car crashes to see whether they can be made safer.

“LIDAR works in the daytime. It works at midnight in total darkness. It works in the rain. It works in sunshine,” he said.

Ruggles and Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. thanked U.S. Rep. Susan Wild for securing the federal grant funds for the LIDAR.

“This is really a great day for the city of Easton,” Ruggles said.

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Rudy Miller may be reached at [email protected].