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EMHS-FEMA Demonstrate Drone Use in Disaster Assessment

August 28, 2017

Florida State University's Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program continues to lead in the innovative use of "drones" for public safety.

The program has entered into a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region III (Mid-Atlantic Coast) and Region IV (Southeast U.S.) with the aim of exploring the use of UAS imagery for post-disaster damage assessment.

This summer, both FEMA regions asked FSU's UAS program to demonstrate the viability of using drone imagery to supplement traditional boots-on-the-ground assessment to damaged public structures. The demonstration, conducted on the university campus, August 10, was attended by officials from FEMA and the State of Florida Department of Transportation and Division of Emergency Management, as well as faculty, staff and students from the EMHS program.

The demonstration consisted of taking and examining UAS imagery (both stills and video) of multi-story structures on campus, local bridges and the Cobb Hydro-Electric Dam" and levee at Lake Talquin.

During the exercise, emphasis was placed on minimizing the number of images and video taken per structure. Because internet connectivity and cellular systems cannot be counted on in the post-disaster environment, a limited data set and smaller image file size are more likely to transmit through very limited communication channels.

When a full communications network is up and running, real-time video streaming from a drone is possible. This was demonstrated when the FSU UAS platform provided live video to FEMA facilities in Atlanta and Philadelphia. Such imagery data can be used by geographic information systems specialists to make the case to federal officials that a federal disaster declaration and assistance is necessary.

Participants spent the day after the demonstration conducting evaluations and discussions of lessons learned, solutions to apply and next steps in this research. FEMA region representatives and officials from the state agreed that one subsequent step will be to deploy a UAS team to a future real-life disaster to see how this UAS damage assessment concept holds up in the field.

“This exercise showed that the technology holds significant promise for the future,” said EMHS faculty member and Senior Fellow Rob McDaniel.

Housed within the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy as part of the Emergency Management and Homeland Security program, the UAS program provides students with an opportunity to gain a certificate in UAS as well as research opportunities for UAS in public safety through the Center for Disaster Risk Policy.

To learn more about FSU UAS visit this link.