This in-depth Tech Brief on emergency management involving flooding and the use of sUAS comes from the Federal Highway Administration.
Flooding is a unique event or occurrence: it may be a standalone incident, or it
may accompany another event. As examples, a hurricane may produce flooding
as well as wind damage, or a landslide may dam a river and create a flood.
Flooding events are unique in terms of their scale of occurrence or time.
There is likely some warning prior to a flooding event, and flooding is generally
a long duration event, when it can be weeks or months before flood dangers
subside. The event may be a series of floods, with a flood from initial intense
rain directly falling in the affected area, followed by river flooding from drainage
or upstream rain moving into the area, as seen with Hurricane Harvey in the
metropolitan Houston, Texas, area.
Flooding impacts can be gradual or sudden, such as the levee breach in New
Orleans, Louisiana, with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Flooding poses immediate threats to personal safety and infrastructure, along
with general risks of hazardous material leaks or spills. Flooding may as also
result in search and recovery of missing persons.
A wide variety of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have been used for flood
events since at least 2005. UAS have been used by formal response agencies
for at least 12 disasters from flooding or for events that had flooding associated
with them. Following is a partial list, in chronological order, of UAS use in
response to flooding, which notes how each response was able to utilize UAS
differently to meet the specific needs of the event.
• Hurricane Katrina 2005. This was the first reported use of UAS. Both
rotorcraft and fixed wing assets were used to determine the flood crest of
the Pearl River in Louisiana and Mississippi and the risk to surrounding
communities (Murphy 2014).
• Hurricane Wilma 2005. A rotorcraft UAS was used to examine the
infrastructure including a bridge to Fort Myers Beach off the southwest Florida
coast (Murphy 2014).
• Thailand Floods 2011. Fixed-wing UAS were used for general surveys of the
flooding (Srivaree-Ratana 2012).
Figure 1 shows most of the UAS used by the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management before, during, and after Hurricane Harvey. As shown in Figure 1, these UAS are small and portable. The most commonly used platform, which was flown in 72 of the 112 missions at Hurricane Katrina and used extensively by NCDOT for Hurricane Florence, costs less than $1K, can be folded to fit in a jacket pocket, and can be recharged from a car inverter. This indicates that agencies can now afford to adopt small UAS.
This document is organized as follows. After covering Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, it presents the seven basic missions that can be performed by small UAS, and then describes which missions are useful for before, during, and after a disaster. After review of UAS responses to flooding events, this document summarizes the primary use cases.
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