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Program Benefits and Uses

A core mission of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is to provide information that leads to reduced loss of life and damage to property and infrastructure from hazards like landslides, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and wildfires. Lidar provides 3D information of the Earth's surface including, terrain, vegetation characteristics and human-made features, enabling production of mapping products.


Decision-makers in government and the private sector increasingly depend on information the USGS provides before, during, and following disasters so that communities can live, work, travel, and build safely. USGS Natural Hazards programs conduct assessments, pursue investigations and forecasts, provide technical assistance to respond to emergencies, and engage in outreach. All of these activities depend on a detailed and accurate understanding of the landscape. 

3DEP can conservatively provide new benefits of $690 million per year in new benefits through applications that span the economy (Dewberry, 2012). The shared lidar, IfSAR, and derived elevation datasets would foster cooperation and improve decision-making among all levels of government and other stakeholders.


Reduced Acquisition Costs and Risks

A funded national program will provide the following:

  • Economy of scale by acquiring data for larger areas and reducing acquisition costs by 25 percent.

  • Predictable, efficient, and flexible Federal investments that reduce costs for and allow better planning by Federal, State, Tribal, U.S. territorial, and local government partners, including the option of “buying up” to acquire higher quality data.

  • Consistent, high-quality national coverage that

    • provides data ready for applications that span project, jurisdictional, and watershed boundaries,

    • meets multiple needs, and

    • increases benefits to citizens.

  • Simpler data acquisition that provides contracts, published data-acquisition specifications, and specialized quality assurance and information technology expertise. Partners reduce their risks and can concentrate on their business activities.


High-Quality Data

For the conterminous United States, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories, the USGS and its partners acquire quality level 2 or better aerial lidar data. Quality level 2 data have a minimum nominal pulse spacing of 0.7 meters and a vertical error of 10 centimeters, measured as root mean square error in the elevation (z) dimension (RMSEz). Statewide for Alaska, quality level 5 IfSAR data are acquired that have a vertical error of 185 centimeters RMSEz. The data must have been acquired during the previous eight years.