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FEMA Grant Allows for Hazard Mapping Across Idaho

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 3:48 pm / November 15, 2016

Lidar image of Idaho landscape.

Boise State University recently received a $954,000 award from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to collect high-quality elevation (lidar) data to assess natural hazards across more than 2,500 square miles in Idaho. Lidar is a technology that captures 3-D information about the land surface and can help map potential flooding, landslides or seismic hazards, and more.

This award presents a unique opportunity for collaboration between Boise State, FEMA, Idaho Office of Emergency Management (IOEM), Idaho Geological Survey (IGS), University of Idaho, Idaho State University and a number of communities across Idaho.

IGS research geologist Bill Phillips noted that the collaboration will leverage IGS expertise in natural hazards. “Lidar is an essential new tool for mapping landslides and faults, particularly in areas with heavy forest cover,” he said.

The project is part of the Idaho Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning (Risk MAP) program that provides technical assistance on all hazards as requested by local jurisdictions in project areas. The program provides state-of-the-art mapping, engineering and scientific teams to understand these hazards. FEMA plans to use this information for floodplain, landslide and fault mapping, which will result in accurate maps using the latest scientific data. These maps can be utilized by communities for regulations, land use and identifying areas that are at risk from these hazards.

Sam Young, a GIS specialist with Blaine County, said lidar also will be used to perform more accurate analysis for land use planning and public safety projects. “Having access to such high quality and timely data is a great asset for our community,” he said. “It enables our decision makers to move forward with the best possible information.”

Collection of lidar data was just completed in the Big Wood River watershed near Sun Valley. Project partners will engage additional stakeholders in 2017 to expand lidar data collection to a large portion of southeastern Idaho.

This coordination is part of the Idaho Lidar Consortium’s role to promote partnerships across the state. The consortium, administered by Boise State University, partners with Idaho State University to provide free data access to the public.

This award comes on the heels of another large data acquisition project funded earlier this year. That project is a multi-agency effort to collect lidar to assess post-fire risks and promote ecosystem restoration.

Together these projects will provide more than 5,000 square miles of lidar data that will be made freely available through the Idaho Lidar Consortium.  In addition, the consortium will develop a comprehensive plan for statewide lidar acquisition that will be a roadmap for statewide lidar coverage.

Portrait of Nancy Glenn“I am very excited about the growing interest in lidar across numerous sectors in the state of Idaho. The amount of activity in 2016 was impressive and 2017 looks to be even more active,” said Nancy Glenn, Boise State professor of geosciences, and lead of the Idaho Lidar Consortium. “We have local, county, state, federal and non-governmental partners at the table who share the vision that lidar is a tremendous resource for hazard prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation, as well as in the engineering, agriculture and energy sectors.”