The imagery and reconnaissance coming in from tracking the impact of Hurricane Harvey (and now Hurricanes Irma and Jose) has been jaw dropping. In fact, these reports have helped instigate a lot of the recovery efforts underway. Various technologies are a critical factor for these efforts and numerous systems are being deployed to serve those communities affected – perhaps the most intriguing being that of unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
While the implementation of UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) has been gradual – being met with some resistance and numerous regulatory factors – disaster and recovery efforts needed at the scale of Hurricane Harvey, for example, cause the need for immediate action. To that end, UAS are being deployed daily to aid government and relief officials in the areas of Houston and Southern Texas. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article authored by Andy Pasztor,
“In the first six days after the storm hit, the Federal Aviation Administration issued more than 40 separate authorizations for emergency drone activities above flood-ravaged Houston and surrounding areas. They ranged from inspecting roadways to checking railroad tracks to assessing the condition of water plants, oil refineries and power lines.
That total climbed above 70 last Friday and topped 100 by Sunday, including some flights prohibited under routine circumstances, according to people familiar with the details. Industry officials said all of the operations—except for a handful flown by media outlets—were conducted in conjunction with, or on behalf of, local, state or federal agencies.”
This quick response from the FAA signals a change forthcoming. As reported above and in other reports, new regulations from the FAA may soon be on the horizon to further expedite the NAS implementation. The benefits of implementing UAS technology for disaster recovery efforts, among other use cases, are far reaching. However, and as we discussed in a post earlier this year, are UAS friends or foes to emergency response teams? Clearly, the evidence around UAS deployments for Hurricane Harvey suggests that these next-generation technologies are proving critical to recovery efforts. However, there are many instances where more stringent rules and regulations of UAS in the NAS are required, especially when impeding response teams.
According to the FAA’s estimates from 2016, we can expect about 7 million drones to ship to the U.S. by 2020. Which also means, our skies are likely to become much more crowded with not just private consumer devices, but many more commercial systems as well. This is where an early examination of the cost/benefit analysis of drones used in emergency response support may prove to be helpful.
By several accounts already reported, numerous police departments, local and regional government agencies, fire departments, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and even lifeguards are already adopting and testing drone technologies in the event of an emergency response situation. By no means do we expect that trend to discontinue. However, it is also important to get a handle of what the negative outcomes could be so that technology companies like FreeWave can help address these issues now through technical guidance, tech innovation and considerations for implementation into the NAS – particularly when it relates to the reliable command and control of these systems.
The point here is we should be exercising any and all options we have as a country to help assist with the relief efforts from these natural disasters. Obviously, unmanned systems are a piece to this puzzle for many reasons, but perhaps most importantly because they help keep additional human lives out of harm’s way.
We want to wish all those affected by Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Jose all the best – keep safe and be well.