We are working with our partner the Lone Star Unmanned Aerial System Center, one of the 6 FAA test centers, to help support the flooding response and recovery efforts for the Texas floods. The floods are a sad example of how flooding costs the U.S. more than 80 lives and $8 billion in damages each year. And that excludes storm surge from hurricanes.
Technology based solutions have advanced to where employing robotic assisted solutions can aide in crisis assessments by federal, state and local officials and emergency workers. Yet more data adds another layer of complexity and extra coordination of robot assisted efforts.
Accurate ground and aerial surveys can help decision makers choose where to deploy limited resources in the best way. By quickly identifying survivors, any follow on threats from the natural disaster, collecting measurements of debris fields, volume of water flows or similar data can be provided without endangering the emergency responders.
Water gone wild and what the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) is working to do:
Texas A&M’s Center for Emergency Informatics (CEI) continues its two-year study of information technologies, including unmanned systems, in response to floods. The CEI brings together practitioners, academics, and industry experts to converge and test their knowledge hardware and software to respond to an array of water borne disasters.
CEI as the host for the Summer Institute on Flooding, slated for June 16-18, will set the stage for testing ideas, marry technologies and coordinate decision makers in real-time flood based scenarios
From the 2014 summer institute 42 representatives from 12 states tapping 14 agencies, 14 universities, and eight businesses were able to judge what information technology was mature enough, or which needs more development to assist with flooding response.
This year’s summer institute will include three exercises, each representing the key problem missions identified by the participating agencies:
- Swift water rescue – a scenario has been developed where suddenly rising waters cut off helping responders to rescue people. Responders from Texas Task Force 1 using the characteristics of a campground flooding will be offered realistic challenges. The TEEX designed exercises focus on real missions rather than around technologies.
- Life-saving response and immediate mitigation: identify best ways to assess where’s the flood, who is at risk?
- Restoration and recovery– exercise decision making for resource allocation to restore roads, electricity, sewage, etc. And engaging insurance companies to conduct property damage assessment and projections of debris generation estimation to manage post flooding problems with decay, vermin and disease.
The growth of small UAVs and flooding response:
Small UAVs have been tasked for at least eight disasters with flooding or had flooding associated with it:
- Hurricane Katrina 2005
- Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan 2009
- Thailand Floods 2011
- Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines 2013
- Boulder Colorado floods 2013
- Oso Washington Mudslides 2014
- Balkans flooding Serbia 2014
- Cyclone Pamela Vanuatu 2014
From the several UAV platforms that went airborne each provided rapid and often timely information to officials and for responders in search and rescue missions as well as the difficulties with recovery.
General reconnaissance: addressing where’s the flooding, where are the people cut off by the flooding, and what roads are still passable.
Hydrological situation awareness: both real-time and post-processed. The flooding caused by the Oso mudslide was a real problem and rotorcraft could hover and stare at the river, letting the hydrologists estimate the flow rate in different areas. The biggest need remains surveying the amount of flooding. And with the addition of photogrammetric image software – UAVs provided details of the terrain and potential for additional flooding or the best place to put a dyke, channel or other mitigation. Our partners at FIT took it further and printed out a 3D model of the terrain to help everyone visualize the terrain.
The power of Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles:
- Over watch for swift water rescue teams: our friends at South Carolina Task Force 1 have been pushing us to help create the protocols for using small UAVs. Seeing something such as a logjam that might be coming down river and pose a threat to life and limb as they work to rescue people. They’ll get their wish as this is one of the scenarios to be unfolded in our 2015 Summer Institute on Flooding in June hosted by CEI.
- Debris estimation: both the debris directly from the flood and the indirect debris that follows on from people having to rip out sheet rock and toss water logged carpets. The advances in photogrammetrics make it possible to estimate the volume of debris. That is based on having the “before” survey of the area. To test it, we flew with PrecisionHawk at the Bennett Landfill superfund site in February 2015 to estimate the volume of toxic trash, which was on fire and needed to be safely removed. Part of the data analysis included estimating the content type, because vegetation and construction materials have to get handled and processed differently.
- Delivery of supplies to isolated regions. We learned during last year’s summer institute that if the locals can hold their own for 72 hours, usually that was sufficient. In Texas, where breeding stock can represent hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment, someone to stay behind may make sense. Determining that they are not a victim is vital. Disasters can take people by surprise with a bridge being washed out or a vital need of medicines and other perishables. A group of Texas A&M aerospace students won 2nd place for their small, hefty fixed-wing UAV that could be used to drop off heavier/bigger bundles of supplies from further distances. Groups like Matternet, who like CRASAR are members of FIT, are looking at delivering medicine with rotorcraft.
- Delivering lifelines, life jackets, and small things to people trapped on roofs: A note about delivering things with a rotorcraft– Using rotorcraft to carry a line or bottle to someone is complicated by the weight and distribution of them. Those factors usually make the UAV very sensitive to wind and control errors. As such, if an open rotor system is used, more distance than normal from a person is needed to account for such errors. One senior design project from last year’s Summer Institute created a two-way audio system for rotorcraft. Since rotors can generate about 85 dB of noise hanging a microphone and speaker on the UAV is ineffective. The Computer Engineering team used noise reduction algorithms from National Instruments LabVIEW to prototype a lightweight 2-way audio system impervious to noise.
Look for more to come from the 2015 Summer Institute for Flooding, June 16-18.