Hurricane Ian: how drones pitched in to help rescue and recovery efforts

Hurricane Ian, a massively destructive and deadly Category 4 Atlantic hurricane that caused widespread damage throughout western Cuba and the southeast United States, was responsible for more than 100 fatalities, plus extensive damage to property, power outages and more. The death toll in Florida caused by Hurricane Ian makes it the deadliest hurricane in the state since 1935.

While far from welcome, Hurricane Ian did provide an opportunity for drones to be put to the test. From flying directly into the storm, to aiding in post-storm recovery efforts, here are some of the ways that drones pitched in to help:

 Hurricane researchers Jun Zhang (University of Miami CIMAS, NOAA AOML), Josh Wadler (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University), and Joe Cione (NOAA AOML) after their successful launch of the Area-I Altius 600 uncrewed aircraft system. Photo courtesy of NOAA/AOML

NOAA flew its Altius drone right into the eye of Hurricane Ian

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has long been studying drones, but Hurricane Ian was the first time that scientists actually deployed an Area-I Altius-600 uncrewed aircraft system straight into the hurricane, mounted on a  NOAA WP-3D Orion Hurricane Hunter aircraft. The drone was able to collect data in areas of the storm deemed too dangerous to risk sending a human into.

And it’s an incredible piece of aircraft, capable of flying 100 miles per hour, at a range of 275 miles. Of course, this is no small backyard drone. It weighs 27 pounds, has an 8-foot wingspan and is capable of handling considerable damage.

The drone was able to collect data that ground level, fixed systems like weather stations and buoys, cannot. It’s also able to track along lower altitudes than what you might get from something like a weather balloon. The information collected by NOAA’s drone is able to help scientists better understand the extremely turbulent hurricane boundary layer environment and clarify how mega tropical systems like Hurricane Ian function — thus leading to more accurate hurricane models in the future.

Photo courtesy of Airborne Response

Commercial drones helped restore critical infrastructure in the aftermath

Aside from NOAA’s drone, most drones were grounded during the storm, which in fact was a FAA requirement. But drones were ready for the recovery efforts. For example, aerial intelligence company Airborne Response used drones to help critical infrastructure providers assess damage, restore power, and process insurance claims in the aftermath of major disaster.

In fact, Airborne Response says it has already completed more than 500 drone flights related to Hurricane Ian assessment projects.

Drones can provide useful tools in disaster recovery efforts where rising floodwaters and damage to critical infrastructure mean closed roads. With an aerial view, firms can understand how to prioritize their attention and have an idea of the state on the ground before they venture in. Airborne Response’s aerial imagery and insights help energy, telecommunications, and insurance firms respond to, and recover from complex emergencies and major natural disasters such as hurricanes. 

CNN drones augmented news broadcasts

Journalists have increasingly been using drones. And just as aerial views can help first responders and infrastructure managers understand more about the damage, they can also help everyday people know what’s going on.

CNN is among the biggest news outlets using drones, and the news network deployed its drones to the Fort Myers area of Florida to better show the destruction.

Verizon drones provided cell coverage

Over on Florida’s Sanibel Island, which was separated from the mainland when Hurricane Ian caused a bridge to collapse, Verizon used a drone to create a popup flying cell site. The site is made up of a tethered drone outfitted with a cellular node, capable of providing cellular coverage from the air to people on the ground. Verizon’s flying cell site was able to provide coverage for an approximate 5-7 mile radius. Since it’s tethered, it can fly for up to 1,000 hours.

In particular, cell coverage was crucial to support search and rescue teams and first responders on the ground. 

The post Hurricane Ian: how drones pitched in to help rescue and recovery efforts appeared first on The Drone Girl.

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