Flying Small UAS for Fooding in Rural and Mountainous Areas

These are some of the lessons learned by the CRASAR deployments to  to Hurricane Maria (J. Adams, lead) and Oso Mudslides (R. Murphy, lead), and from outbriefs of the 2018 Northern Kyushu Heavy Rain Flood in Japan. It is a special case of the just-in-time  best practice guides for flooding at
In rural and mountainous areas, UAS are typically used for reconnaissance of areas that can’t be reached by road (or road is blocked) or rural areas where manned assets are not in use, assessment of where the water is and how fast it is flowing, determining transportation routes, and overwatch of swift water rescue, What makes rural and mountainous areas different is the lack of access (less roads, open spots), trees, and the difficult terrain.

Here are some notes about flying:
  • UAS can’t fly in heavy rain and fog, sometimes you just have to wait
  • UAS can fly directly to houses or villages on mountains or in valleys, providing rapid access
  • A strategy is to fly UAS along the centerline of the roads. The UAS can get a quick assessment as houses, shops, buildings tend to be near roads. Unlike just driving by in a ground vehicle (which be useful, see the GroundVu system), it can be very useful to be able to see behind the houses, where there could be damage or signs that people were still there. Along the way, the UAS can check the state of roads to remote areas, like has it washed away. Plus flying the centerline avoids unexpected tall trees and power lines which seem to come out of nowhere!
Be aware that:
  • BVLOS flying can be challenging as maps don’t always show power lines, really tall trees, or other structures especially in undulating terrain; a topological elevation map isn’t sufficient
  • While manned aviation in rural and remote areas is likely to be less dense than near metropolitan areas, it may still be present so aerial safety is important
  • Mapping will generate massive amounts of data that have to be managed and post-processed; it is useful to create a picture of kilometers of road but worthless if there is not bandwidth or software on a computer that can rapidly process the data
  • Fixed wings typically present problems for staying at the AGL maximum in mountainous terrain, though new terrain sensitive planners are becoming available

Lessons Learned: Deploying UAVs for Volcano Eruption Response

Having recently supported the response to Hawaii volcano eruption at Kilauea Volcano Lower East Rift Zone, we offer the following insights and lessons learned regarding use of UAVs for volcano eruption response.

Night flights of UAVs are very effective.

Manned aviation generally cannot fly at night, meaning responders are essentially blind for 8-12 hours. But UAVs can fly at night. There are no challenges coordinating with manned aircraft since they are not flying, and it is easier to keep the UAV in visible line of sight.

Rotorcraft UAVs can effectively sample gas.

We used the Flymotion stinger attachment to carry a four-gas meter and map the Kilauea plume. Caution: If your UAV isn’t designed for attaching payloads, it may be unstable and crash.

Rotorcraft UAVs with thermal sensors are very effective.

Rotorcraft UAVs with thermal sensors are particularly effectivefor determining new lava flows from old flows and for seeing at night. We found the DJI Zenmuse XT2 to be particularly useful. It produces radiometric jpgs where the pixel value is the temperature.

Rotorcraft UAVs provide a quick look at lava flow rates.

Rotorcraft UAVs provide a quick means of determining how fast lava is moving. Fly the UAV with a nadir view to the edge of the lava, get the GPS coordinate, repeat in a few minutes, do the math.

Plumes will interfere with photogrammetric mapping.

Plumes will interfere with photogrammetric mapping. Expect errors, lower visibility, and failed stitches.

Hanger 360 rapidly produced panoramas.

Hanger 360 rapidly produced panoramas without flying over property or people. Even better, the panorama resides in the web so responders don’t have to have download apps or have a special mouse to move through the image. And, they can easily email or text url to others.

Ground, Aerial, and Marine Rescue Robots of the Year Announced at National Robotics Week

With the 2018 hurricane season just weeks away, the independent not-for-profit Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) announced the first ever Disaster Robotics Awards. Awards were announced for the 2018 Ground, Aerial, and Marine Rescue Robots of the Year on April 14, 2018 during a National Robotics Week ceremony at SEAD Gallery in Bryan, TX.

CRASAR’s 2018 Aerial Rescue Robot of the Year is the DJI Mavic Pro. With a price tag of $1,000, experts found this drone was able to do everything they needed. Because batteries are expensive, the low price and the ability to recharge using a car charger are particularly important, as is the stabilizing camera with pan and tilt. The review team also noted DJI Mavic Pro’s first-person view, as well as programmed views provide the option of broad, NASA-style tiled mapping if needed. Most importantly, DJI Mavic proved itself a workhorse among responders and quickly became the tool of choice, flying 78 of the 112 flights during CRASAR’s Hurricane Harvey response and just weeks later, 247 of 247 flights when they responded to Hurricane Irma.

Another workhorse among the 2018 honorees is the 2018 Marine Rescue Robot of the Year, Hydronalix EMILY. Among the most used by lifeguards worldwide, this water-based robot boat has the ability to run rescue lines to people in distress and the capacity for five to eight people to hang on while being towed to safety. These features have made surfboard-sized EMILY a favorite among lifeguards in both routine and large-scale water rescues, including refugee rescues along the migrant route in the Aegean Sea.

A lesser known but very promising terrestrial robot captured the win as the 2018 Ground Rescue Robot of the Year. Carnegie Melon University’s aptly named Snakebot can propel itself into the smallest of spaces, allowing rescuers to search for signs of life where dogs and people cannot reach. The 2017 Mexico City earthquake marked the first use of Snakebot in the response phase of a disaster operation.

“These robots enable life-saving decision making for responders and emergency managers,” Murphy says. “Rescue decisions and critical infrastructure decisions during that response phase are made very rapidly based on the best available information at the time and these robots, well-deployed with the right teams of operators and experts, are getting key information to decision makers so they can save lives and efficiently manage risk.”

Spearheaded by internationally renowned Disaster Roboticist Dr. Robin Murphy, the Disaster Robotics Awards were created to raise awareness of the role and value of robots for disaster response and help prepare responders to put these resources to work in both routine response and disasters.

“The goal of the Disaster Robotics Awards is twofold,” Murphy explains. “One, we are letting people know what’s working and why. Two, we want to get people thinking about the next disaster.”

The ceremony also included awards and acknowledgements. Educator of the Year went to David Merrick at the FSU Center for Disaster Risk Policy, for his work in developing and offering classes in small UAS aimed specifically for the needs of emergency professionals. One of the courses Is now available online at Agency Partner of the Year went to Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management for partnership on the Hurricane Harvey preparations, response, and recovery activities. The Service Award was awarded to Justin Adams who coordinated CRASAR operations as well as served as the Air Operations Chief for manned and unmanned operations for Fort Bend County during Harvey, then was CRASAR operations for Hurricane Irma, and deployed a third time to Hurricane Maria for three weeks.

Hurricane season begins June 1 and experts are anticipating a strong season of storms again in 2018. Murphy and her colleagues based the 2018 Disaster Robotics Awards on what robots worked well for responders over the last year. The CRASAR team documented robot use in response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the Mexico City earthquake, and water rescues of Syrian boat refugees and elsewhere, gathering data regarding number, duration and nature of deployment. With these insights into what robots work best for responder, the 2018 honorees were selected.

While the awards recognize the contribution of robots in disaster response over the last year, CRASAR’s insights into the value of and best practices for robots in disaster response date back to the first use of robots in disaster response at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Murphy was on hand in New York and has been deploying robots in disaster response globally ever since. Through her work with both CRASAR and the Humanitarian Robotics and AI Laboratory in Texas A&M University’s Computer Science and Engineering Department, Murphy and colleagues continue to promote best practices and offer support to responders seeking the benefits of disaster robots.

CAUSE V: Testing Telecommunications Coverage and Bandwidth for small UAS

In November, members of the Roboticists Without Borders small UAS and UMV teams participated in CAUSE V, a joint US-Canada DHS exercise focusing on wireless communications during a disaster. Check out the fantastic article by Jim Moore, one of our newest RWB members, at:

CAUSE V is a good example of the telecommunications challenges in exploiting unmanned systems during emergencies. CRASAR has been working with Dr. Walt Magnussen and the Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center through the Winter Institute series and I’ve presented to the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee in 2016.  At CAUSE V, we encountered that same telecommunications problems that I’ve seen since the early 2000’s (and continue to present on).  Two challenges- that network coverage doesn’t match the area of operations and there is insufficient bandwidth— are detailed below in the hopes of providing more clarity.

One, Coverage of the emergency wireless networks did not match the actual area of small UAS operations and would not have covered the areas of operations seen in our previous disasters. 

There seems to be an assumption that each UAS team will drive around in a command vehicle and operate from a fixed location. In reality, a group such as ours may have a command vehicle that would serve as forward operating base but individual teams might be embedded with an agency and their vehicles or drive SUVs. The CAUSE V team installed a connection to the emergency network in our mobile lab and provided us with a wireless “bubble” around our mobile lab of about 500 feet.

A UAS team ranges far from the forward operating base and is constantly on the move (and ideally there are many teams). At the CAUSE V exercise, we had 3 teams in the field at any given time and they were between 29-40 miles away from the mobile lab.  At Hurricane Harvey, CRASAR had between 2 and 6 teams in the field at any given time and they were operating between 2 and 45 miles from the nearest base of operations. The time at a location for the the CAUSE V missions and most missions at Harvey was on the order of 16 minutes or less- reinforcing that the teams are highly mobile.

Two, Bandwidth was not sufficient for real-time streaming from one or more UAS, sharing high resolution imagery and video, or uploading imagery for post-processing in the cloud.

Every disaster is different but in general I witness that the immediate response phase of disaster (usually the first 24-48 hours) is characterized by responders and emergency managers seeking immediate situation awareness. The longer they have to defer decisions about life-saving and about what resources to call in, the slower the response and the more shortages in food, water, power, etc. for the citizens because of latency in ordering.

During the immediate response phase, the small UAS provide bursts of:
  • low resolution streaming video. Responders need to see (and direct) what the UAS is seeing in real-time. Since every disaster is different, what they need to see isn’t predictable, so if the UAS team flies but doesn’t capture all the data or from the wrong angle- the team will have to return to re-fly because they will have been done in 20 minutes and moved to the next site which might be 20 miles away. Even a 15 minute latency in streaming can result in hours and hours of delays in re-flying and ultimate decision making. And add months to recovery (if you believe in the Haas, Kates, and Bowden model).
  • high resolution imagery and video. Low resolution is low resolution, you can’t see everything that’s there. As a result, responders such as structural experts will want to go over the individual high rez images and video that are stored on SD cards. But that imagery needs to get to them fast enough from them analyze it and make decisions or recommendations for the next operational period which is roughly every 12 hours. Without higher bandwidth, the current options are for each team to travel back to the forward operating base (which may be 20 miles away but make take 3 hours to drive due to road closures, detours, etc.) or to have a courier adding more manpower. At Texas A&M, we are working on software to snippet and prioritize data to be transmitted but all of work domain analyses suggest that there will still be A LOT of data to transmit. ASAP. Not tomorrow or 3 days from now, which one telecoms person suggested saying that 3 days to get that high res data would be ok, right? No, it’s not OK.

Note that mapping and photogrammetric post-processing may not be involved in the immediate response phase for all types of disasters- and looking over our deployments as well as those of other agencies, we are seeing that it rarely is requested or is of value in the immediate response phase. At Harvey, the emergency management agencies wanted solely FPV for the first few days and then shifted to mapping as operations on 9/2/2107 shifted to mitigation and restoration of services (which generally starts about 48-72 days after the event, which may be where the “they don’t need the higher resolution data for 3 days” came from).

But in CAUSE V, a volcanic explosion with a lahar flowing down the mountain, volumetric data from imagery would be extremely important to have as fast as possible and ideally calculated within at least one 12 hour planning cycle. This means driving to the site, flying, driving back, uploading 200-800 high resolution images (from a SINGLE flight) to the cloud, and then downloading the final product- a file somewhere between 0.5 and 3 GB (not the most convenient size to email or share)- in less than 12 hours. One of our mapping flights from Harvey took 17 hours to upload- and we were in the metro-Houston area that hadn’t lost cellular infrastructure!

One solution is for the UAS team is edge computing– to process this in the field or at the forward operating base- assuming that they can afford the software license and the high end computer. We believe that less emphasis should be on the Cloud and more work needs to be into edge computing, where more computation is done onboard the UAS or controller and is done more “invisibly” to the UAS team who don’t have time and cognitive resources to expend.

Regardless, telecommunications continues to be an important key in effective unmanned aerial SYSTEMS.  And many thanks to the organizers who are pro-actively trying to learn how to make telecommunications and FirstNet work for the good of us all!

#Mexico #Earthquake Overview of robots and earthquakes: background and how they can help

Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and the responders in Mexico. CRASAR has not been contacted about robots but this blog may be of use in thinking about how to use robots.

Ground, aerial, and marine robots have been used in several earthquakes. A good overview of ground robots for structural collapse is at It’s an older documentary but all the issues and gear are still the same.

Small unmanned aerial vehicles are probably everyone’s first thought for earthquakes, in part to map out the extent of the damage. They can also be used to help responders determine the shortest, most debris-free route to locations or interest.  For the reconstruction and recovery phases, UAS have been used to fly around and in large buildings that are suspected of being too dangerous for structural specialists to enter and assess the risk of further collapse- for example the cathedrals in Canterbury NZ, Mirandola ,Italy, and Amatrice, Italy.  After the Tohoku earthquake, many experts pointed out that UAVs should be used to determine the state of hospitals- both whether the hospital is still functional but also if it is being overwhelmed by patients.

Ground robots also have a role. An earthquake may cause buildings to completely collapse where there are no voids that a responder can get into. The general strategy is to use a canine team to determine if there are survivors in the rubble (dogs can tell if the person is still alive). Typically a boroscope or a camera on a wand is inserted to try to see if they can locate the survivors and also get a sense of the best was to remove material to get to them.  The boroscope or a camara on a wand can only go about 18 feet into the rubble, depending on how twisty the void is. In a major building collapse, survivors may be much further, which is why small, shoe-box sized robots such as an Inuktun VGTV may be used. The “cameras on tracks” robots can pull themselves into the rubble and also change shape to help get into tight spots.  These small robots will usually be tethered, with the tether acting as a belay line and the tether preventing loss of signal.


Some interesting robots are the snake robots being developed by Howie Choset at CMU and the Active Scope Camera caterpillar robot being developed by Olympus in conjunction with Japanese researchers led by Satoshi Tadokoro. The ASC was used at the Jacksonville building collapse in 2007.


Bigger ground robots, such as those used at Fukushima, can be used in bigger buildings but gepnerally can’t see the ceilings, which is usually very important and happened the New Zealand earthquake. They can’t go into small voids and may be too heavy- they could cause delicately balanced rubble to further collapse and kill a survivor underneath.


Marine robots, especially ROVs, are important as was seen in the Haiti earthquake and Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The earthquake may have changed the shipping channels, damaged bridges and ports, and put debris in unexpected places. Thus shipping is stopped until the shipping channels are cleared- and as was seen at Haiti it’s hard to feed a country with one airport. Shipping is extremely important for getting relief supplies in.


There are more details in the case studies in Disaster Robotics  and the Springer Handbook of Robotics on what robots have been used and particular strategies. All of us are happy to answer questions. We wish everyone the best on this terrible event.

Update on Hurricane Irma Unmanned Aerial Systems: new record of 247 flights for public officials

FSU's Mike McDaniel with Collier County official flying a DJI MavicA major update from our earlier post    CRASAR was at Hurricane Irma supporting Roboticists Without Borders’ member Florida State University Center for Disaster Risk Policy deployment to Collier County, Florida. The CDRP effort was led by David Merrick, CDRP director, with Justin Adams, Kovar and Associates, who led the CRASAR Harvey response serving as his deputy. Collier County is in southern Florida near Naples and Marco Island. This is familiar territory to CRASAR, who responded to Hurricane Wilma in 2005 at Marco Island, sending out the first known use of unmanned marine vehicles. The county was exposed to severe wind damage and flooding from Irma which passed over as a Category 3 hurricane on September 10. The teams demobilized on September 16, with last flights on September 15.  Six UAS pilots flew 247 imaging flights covering over 491 critical infrastructure targets, as well as provided overwatch for FL Task Force 8 and made multiple maps. The flights started on September 11 and surpassed the record of 119 mission flights for public officials during a disaster set at Hurricane Harvey. FSU and Texas A&M plan to offer a joint day-long short course on small UAS for emergency management on October 21, expanding the course that they have taught at the Florida Governors Hurricane Conference in May 2017 and for Los Angeles County Fire Rescue last week. Contact Robin Murphy for more information about the Irma deployment and the upcoming course.


The FSU CDRP team under the direction of David Merrick was a major component of CRASAR’s record setting small UAS Hurricane Harvey response, leaving Texas with two days to prepare and predeploy for Irma. The use of small UAS at Irma initially followed a similar pattern to Hurricane Harvey, with UAS being used to assist with rapidly conducting search and rescue operations and determining the best route for US&R teams to reach people at risk but now has shifted to determining the state of over 1,500 critical infrastructure targets in the county. These targets, which include bridges and waste water treating stations,  impact the restoration of services and the economic recovery of the regions. The use of small UAS has significantly sped up the process, provide more complete assessment of all sides of a target, and multiple targets can be examined on one flight.


The FSU CDRP-led teams consist of pilots, data managers, platforms, and the RESPOND-R mobile lab. The teams are from FSU, Kovar and Associates, and CRASAR. The teams have 7 pilots with a fleet of 20 platforms including the DJI Mavic, DJI M600 Pro, Inspire, Intel Falcon 8, Disco, Phantom 3, and PrecisionHawk Lancaster rev 5. The teams are using the lessons learned at Harvey to improve rapid sortie planning, team situation awareness, and streamlining data management. Data is being collected by CRASAR and FSU from both deployments to permit developers to build better UAS optimized for the wind and operations tempo in a disaster and user interfaces that facilitate the data-to-decision process enabling county emergency management experts to rapidly get the right information and make good decisions. The data will also support the creation of  new visualization tools for responders, enabling them to sort through terabytes of aerial imagery, and serve as a foundation for machine learning and computer vision algorithms to process tetrabytes of data.



The Irma response differs from the Harvey response in at least four key ways.

  • the hurricane posed primarily wind damage with flooding as a secondary impact, whereas Harvey in Fort Bend County was primarily flooding from rainfall and then the risk of additional river flooding. This changed the style of search and rescue operations, especially as cellular coverage was affected and residents could not always call for help. The UAS teams assisted Florida Task Force 8 as the aerial view helped  the searchers determine where to go, which flooded house to inspect next, and to better coordinate operations. The wind damage in Irma made route clearing operations more important as downed trees could unpredictably be blocking roads as compared to flooding with tended to inundate specific areas and predicted from flood maps.
  • the majority of missions are for critical infrastructure property damage assessment. These assessments were normally being done in person.  This is time consuming for driving to the site (including determining alternative routes) and then requires a person’s time to survey the target. In many cases, the inspector cannot see or get to all sides of a facility. While both manual and UAS inspection require the same amount of time to get to a target, the use of UAS is being shown to be faster than walking around and more complete as the UAS can fly around the target and also provide an birds’ eye view as well. For example, on Sept. 13, two 2-person UAS teams were able to document 97 infrastructure targets with 12 flights. Our initial look at our logs indicate an average of 16 minutes on-site for a mission– that’s stop the car, turn on the UAS, fly the mission, get back in the car. And a flight covers an average of 2 targets per flight. It’s hard to believe that a person can walk around a tank farm faster.
  • A single flight (or sortie) at Irma typically covers multiple targets (an average of 2 targets), while at Harvey a single flight covered only one direct mission objective (though the aerial imagery was used to inform additional multiple emergency support functions).
  • Operationally, the resident population and airspace traffic is less dense, with less manned assets flying in the region and the operations did not require a Temporary Flight Restriction for safety. The Irma teams have less challenges in planning flights to avoid flying over people and did not encounter self-deployed teams or hobbyists interfering with UAS flights for officials; these challenges were seen at Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey Deployment for Fort Bend County OEM: 119 flights over 11 days


Group photo, missing USAA and Hydronalix teams.
Group photo with TAMU, FSU, Kovar & Associates, LSUASC, PrecisionHawk and Intel, missing USAA and Hydronalix teams.

The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) coordinated the largest known deployment of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) by public officials for a federally declared disaster- both serving as Air Operations for manned and unmanned aircraft and deploying small UAS ranging in size from DJI Mavics to the Insitu ScanEagle. The deployment was for the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management with whom CRASAR had provided assets for previous floods. CRASAR flew 119 mission flights from August 25 (preparing for landfall) to September 4 (when the emergency life-saving response and restoration of services phases of the disaster were largely over), with a record 61 flights on one day. The deployment was led by Justin Adams, who served as Air Operations branch director for Fort Bend County manned unmanned ops and CRASAR Roboticists Without Borders coordinator. Videos are available on Fort Bend County OEM’s website in accordance with the county’s drone data policy; there may be a backlog of posting due to the size of the event.

The UAS flights were for

  • rapid spot checks of situation awareness of people in distress
  • the extent of flood and tornado damage
  • how many people had not evacuated, access routes to neighborhoods
  • projecting how long the neighborhoods would be cut off, throughout the county (which is very large and hard to get a handle on)- based on information coming to EOC, the county’s projections and knowledge from 2016 floods- not just easiest or most compelling for media to fly or waiting for complete coverage by manned assets
  • inform the public and dispel rumors- allowed County Judge Hebert  to immediately and directly address Citizens’ concerns and dispel rumors, e.g., postings to social media about a particular neighborhood, then tasked to fly that neighborhood to get eyes on to inform the EOC as to the situation and to show the community; water is coming over the Richmond railroad bridge
  • systematically document damage for federal disaster relief and future planning
  • project river flooding by monitoring the river and confirming river flood inundation models
  • monitor the river and condition of over 100 miles of levees through out the county

There were additional flights for videography, training, and some flights were actually multiple flights where UAS had to return home for a battery change before continuing. Each mission flight was to satisfy a request made by officials throughout the county following their incident command system. CRASAR also directed Air Operations for the county, coordinating all manned and unmanned assets.

The center was requested by Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management on Aug 24 and activated the Roboticists Without Borders program, which consists of companies, universities, and individual experts who have been trained in disaster response; volunteer their time, travel, and equipment; and conform to Fort Bend County OEM data management policies. The RWB brought in 24 unmanned aerial vehicles and 2 unmanned marine vehicles in from five institutional members: Florida State University Center for Disaster Risk Policy (5), GroundVu (2), Hydronalix (3),  Kovar & Associated (1), Lone Star UAS FAA Center of Excellence (3),  PrecisionHawk (1), and USAA (2) plus Intel (1). RWB provided 13 UAS pilots, 3 UMV operators, and 4 data managers. The team members were from 6 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Texas, and Washington State. In addition PrecisionHawk donated five Lancaster UAS and access to their DataMapper software, Boeing Insitu deployed their Scan Eagle through Lone Star UASC,  and Intel loaned a Falcon 8 UAS designed from structural inspection, for a total of 25 UAS platforms. The platforms were, in alphabetical order, AirRobot 200, AirRobot 180, DJI Inspire, DJI Mavic, DJI M600 Pro, DJI Phantom 3 Pro, DJI Phantom 4 Pro, Insitu Scan Eagle, Intel Falcon 8, Parrot Disco, PrecisionHawk M100, PrecisionHawk Lancaster 5, 3DR Solo, and UAUSA Tempest.

In addition, there were other significant UAS donations by other groups. Rocky Mountain Unmanned Systems loaned a Z30 camera high resolution and high zoom payload that increased the area of view. AirMap adapted their popular UAS flight app for use by CRASAR, allowing the members to see which of their UAS were in the air at the same time as well as other UAS who reported that they were flying in the area. PrecisionHawk’s LATAS tags for the Lancasters were very helpful as well. LSUASC loaned access to Harris’ RangeVue software, allowing AirOperations to see manned flights and alert UAS teams of approaching low flying aircraft.  Other donations and support came from ESRI, FireWhat, GroundView, RemoteGeo, Salamander Technologies, Sweetwater Video, and TAC Aero.

Two EMILY unmanned marine vehicles, small robot boats, were available. One was outfitted with a side scan sonar and used to attempt to determine flow rates of the river. The other was outfitted for swift water but was not needed during the rescue phase of operations.

Hurricane Harvey: some video of flights in Fort Bend County

UAVs We’ve certainly been busy flying for Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management plus our member Justin Adams serving as AirBoss for manned and unmanned aircraft- see some videos. The graphic is a quick look at the platforms on tap for the response here. Big shout out to Rocky Mountain Unmanned Systems and PrecisionHawk for their donation of equipment plus Insitu coming out with a Scan Eagle as part of the resources contributed by Lone Star UAS Center!

FBC policy is to post all their drone video- this worked great during the April 2016 floods where the people manning the phones could tell worried family members to go look at a particular video of the river by a senior assisted living facility.  They are a bit behind in posting but if you are interested some of the videos are now available on the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management YouTube channel.  The missions range from situation awareness of neighborhoods (who’s still there, how severely and long are they going to be cut off before the waters recede) to bridge and dam inspection. Our FSU Center for Disaster Risk Policy team has been flying extensively and even flew off a flat bottom boat.

New Zealand: what can robots do for a tsunami and quake?

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Kiwis and especially to our colleagues at the New Zealand Fire Service who have been diligently adopting robotics.

So when a tsunami strikes, what can robots do? As was shown at the 3/11 Japan tsunami, unmanned marine vehicles can accelerate economic recovery by inspecting critical underwater infrastructure

[youtube][/youtube] As was shown by our Japan-US deployments at the invitation of two municipalities at the 3/11 Japan tsunami, unmanned marine vehicles  (UMV) can assist with the response and accelerate economic recovery by inspecting critical underwater infrastructure- the underwater portions of bridges, ports, and shipping channels that are vital for access by responders and for getting supplies to any cut off populations. Later, the UMVs can help with environmental remediation, finding fishing boats and cars leaking gas and oil into pristine fishing waters and identifying other sources of pollution or dangers to fishing and navigation.

UAVs could be used to assess the overall boundaries of the incident, though most of the damage is near the ground. Like flooding, this is hard to get the angles to accurately assess damage. In places such as New Zealand, the agencies (and news media) generally have enough resources to get a general aerial assessment.


Emergency Managers Find Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Effective for Flooding and Popular With Residents

A paper to be presented next week at the IEEE International Symposium on Safety Security and Rescue Robotics in Lausanne, Switzerland, details the use of small unmanned aerial systems in two recent Texas floods in Fort Bend County, a major Houston suburb and 10th largest populated county in Texas. The 21 flights over four days provided flood mapping and projection of impacts, helping the county prepare and respond to the floods. Surprisingly, the flights did not encounter public resistance and the videos became a popular and useful asset for informing the county residents as to the state of the flooding. A pre-print is available here.

The small unmanned aerial systems were deployed through the Roboticists Without Borders program of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue for two flood events in April and May 2016. Both events were presidential declared disasters.  Experts from DataWing Global, CartoFusion Technologies, USAA, and Texas A&M embedded with the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management and the Fort Bend County Drainage District to fly low-cost DJI Phantoms and Inspires. The flights provided flood assessment including flood mapping and projection of impact in order to plan for emergency services and verification of flood inundation models, providing justification for future publicly accountable decisions on land use, development, and roads.

The paper, titled Two Case Studies and Gaps Analysis of Flood Assessment for Emergency Management with Small Unmanned Aerial Systems by Murphy,  Dufek, Sarmiento, Wilde, Xiao, Braun, Mullen, Smith, Allred, Adams, Wright, and Gingrich, documents the successful use of the small unmanned aerial systems for the two. It discusses the best practices that emerged but also identifies gaps in informatics, manpower, human-robot interaction, and cost-benefit analysis.

The annual IEEE International Symposium on Safety Security and Rescue Robotics was established in 2002 by the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. It is the only conference dedicated to the use of ground, aerial, and marine robots for public safety applications. It typically attracts 60-150 researchers, industrialists, and agency representatives from North America, Europe, and Asia. This year’s conference will be held at Lausanne, Switzerland, see for more information about the conference.

The TEES Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue is the leader in documenting, deploying, and facilitating technology transfer of unmanned systems for disasters. It has inserted robots or advised on the use of robots at over two dozen events in 5 countries, starting with the 9/11 World Trade Center and including Hurricane Katrina and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.

For more information contact:


Justin Adams, US Datawing and UAS lead for Roboticists Without Borders, , 832.653.1057

Dr. Robin Murphy, director for the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue,, 813.503.9881