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Drone Technology and Public Outreach

Technological advances have changed public outreach dramatically, creating opportunities for engagement that did not exist even a few years ago.

In more than 20 years of working in public outreach for infrastructure and commercial construction, I see the arrival of drone technology as perhaps the most exciting advancement for broadening outreach, stimulating engagement, and making the case for additional investment in public involvement.

When I think back to my previous positions as Public Affairs Manager and Executive Officer at the Oregon Department of Transportation, and then as the Director of Communications and Social Equity at the Portland Development Commission, I can only marvel at the new tools we have at our disposal today.

Consider these advantages of drone technology for public outreach:

An aerial view literally provides a different perspective. There is no comparison between street-level images and even a single aerial shot for conveying scope. And such a comprehensive view helps inform the public and gain their understanding and acceptance.

Aerial imagery can add interest to any development properties, and with processing software such as Lightroom, you can focus attention on the right properties.

Clinton Triangle, Central Eastside, Portland Oregon 2018

Drone technology transforms complex projects with multiple phases into visually understandable images by combining aerial footage with animation in post-production. One example below is the Centennial Mills project on the Willamette River, where at the Portland Development Commission I commissioned aerial images that were then animated and colorized to show each phase (aerial video by Adam Simmons, post production by John Cardenas at PDC).

The use of 3D modeling allows for before and after images and allows the public to interact with changes to and redevelopment of existing buildings.

Drones can go where cameras and people could not easily go before. Agencies and companies can make the case for increasing infrastructure investments through the use of aerial photos and video that include thermal and multispectral imaging. These technologies show defects and flaws in existing structures like bridges, viaducts, and roads in ways that were not possible in the past.

You can plan drone missions with software such as Litchi, then export to Google Earth Pro to create 3D virtual reality tours of any corridor, neighborhood or region without every leaving the office.

Cathedral Point Park in Portland, OR 3D Virtual Tour

(Video is at

During the planning phases of development, transportation and environmental projects, aerial imagery effectively shows various options, especially over extended areas and transportation corridors. An aerial video featuring an interactive 3D model and 360-degree panoramic images adds an entirely different dimension and perspective to your outreach and creates an immediate understanding of place.

Union Station – Broadway Corridor Plan Project

Showing accountability through progress documentation demonstrates how agencies are using the public’s money, and progress is more easily viewed from the air.

One of the biggest risks to an outreach process is insufficient diversity in public participation.

The language of video speaks to audiences of all ages and communities, providing an effective and far-reaching outreach tool.

Striking aerial imagery for public outreach is even more effective when combined with digital communications techniques such as geofencing. Geofencing draws a virtual line around a neighborhood or district. When people enter that area, the outreach event or opportunity to participate appears on a mobile device or computer and triggers a video or other messaging, with retargeting following them from site to site. Timing can be customized, for example from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., so that only people who live in the project area receive the retargeting.

With all that it has to offer, aerial imagery and drone technology are surprisingly affordable and one of the most cost-effective elements of any public outreach campaign or process.

To find out how aerial technology can transform your public engagement, call me directly at (503) 706-4204, email at, and check out our website at

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