Geolocating A Car Crash


I first saw this photo in a blog post from EverydaySpy, saying he had been in a hit-and-run accident.

The post mentioned that he was in Abu Dhabi and was merging when this happened. I was intrigued and immediately decided to locate the photo.

I want to walk you through the process I used to locate the spot this photo was taken.

Step 1: Observe the focal point

The focal point of a photo is what the photographer was focused on. This is the subject or event of interest to the person taking the image.

In this photo, we can see the car. It has been damaged and it is parked on sand.

It is also important to note what we do not see. There are no visible emergency services. There are no other vehicles. No people. No sidewalk. No shrubs or trees.

Step 2: Observe the foreground

Behind the vehicle, we can see that the sandy space extends a good distance to a fence with barbed wire on top. In front of the fence line are tire tracks in the sand.

Again, no people or other vehicles are visible.

Step 3: Observe the background

Looking at the background of a photo can tell you a lot about a place.

Beyond the fence, to the left, there are some tall thin blue storage tanks. To the right, there is a dark gray building. In the very center, there is a hazy curved building that looks rather far away, standing by itself.

This curved building is the control tower for the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

© Lester Ali

The curve is only in one direction and can tell you which way the photographer was facing when they took the picture.

Step 4: Narrow down the position of the camera

Moving to one of the most robust free tools on the market, GoogleEarth is fantastic. I use it way more than I care to admit – even more so now using the built-in flight simulator to teach my kids about geography.

To recap, there is a fence, a series of blue storage tanks, a control tower, and a gray building. First, we locate the position of the control tower, and match up the curve with the photo. This tells us that the photo was taken to the North of the tower.

Looking northwards, we see a highway named E-12. There is also a ramp leading onto that highway from E-10.

Step 5: Find elements that match those found in the foreground

Zooming into the map, along the ramp area of E12, we see an oil facility.

GoogleEarth lets you see historical photos as well. Moving back in time, we get different views, at different times of day and different seasons of an area. Below you can see that the facility clearly has several tall blue containers and a gray building near an onramp for the E-12.

Step 6: Verify

Intelligence analysis is not complete unless you verify your findings.

To do this, using GoogleEarth, put yourself in the position you think the photographer took the image and see if your other data points line up.

We see that our blue containers match. The gray building to the right matches. And between the two, we have a clear line of sight (marked in red) of the control tower in the distance.

Assessment: The photo was taken at approximately 24°28’38.16″N, 54°39’49.98″E

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like my post on being a targeting analyst.

If you want to test your skills, check out @quiztime on Twitter. Quiztime offers new IMINT/GEOINT challenges every week.

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