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.

Hurricane Harvey: How to Fly at Hurricane Harvey

Update: I was reminded to remind everyone about Texas UAV privacy laws- we can’t fly for things like damage assessment without the property owner’s permission unless you are explicitly working for a state agency. Louisiana laws may be different, be sure and check out the rules! Also, we’re rapidly moving out of the immediate life-saving response phase and into the initial recovery phase.
Even before I posted about flying since Friday, we’re getting swamped with requests from pilots asking about i) volunteering to fly for Roboticists Without Borders or ii) about volunteering for an agency or iii) telling me that they are self-deploying and asking where is the best place to go. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers most people want to hear. I would direct most people to read Disaster Robotics, where in the last chapter I go through working with response professionals.  Flying for a disaster is very different than flying for a job and the best practices and use case aren’t enough  (those assumed you were trained for disasters)- I don’t have time to go through why it is so different, but here are some points to consider:
It’s too late to join Roboticists Without Borders to fly for the Harvey response. Everyone who is deployed with the team has to have been trained and participated in at least one of our disaster exercises before deploying to an incident. Disasters are different, just knowing how to fly isn’t enough. Think about all those cop movies or movies about or special ops like “Zero Dark Thirty,” there’s a whole language, expectations, working conditions, and a whole lot of prior training that’s involved. If you don’t have the equipment, clothing, the training and knowledge of how to fit in, then you slow the whole response down and worse yet may put yourself at risk. One of the reasons we are extended formal invitations to participate in disasters is that we only deploy people who have been trained. We are having a training exercise in November, though we may have another one sooner.
Self-deploying is illegal and unhelpful. The illegal part should be self-explanatory. As I describe in Disaster Robotics, the unhelpful part stems from the agencies being overwhelmed with their tasks and unable to absorb new technologies or anything that changes what they trained for. The idea of flying on your own, then sharing your data is interesting- sadly handing a thumb drive of video to someone at the front desk of an Emergency Operations Center doesn’t ensure anyone will ever see that video. If you read our papers and best practices, you’ll see that managing the data and sorting out what is important for which groups in a response is very important. So just flying and collecting data is maybe 25% of the job. If you aren’t associated with a response agency, you don’t have anyway of doing the other 75% of the job of getting the right information to the right people in time for them to make a right decision. 
 
It is generally too late to reach out an agency and even have them return your call. Again, as pointed out in Disaster Robotics, agencies can’t handle something new or a change in their procedures or anything that impacts manpower; are accountable to the public so must have vetting that the person is good at UAVs AND can work at a disaster; can’t handle the increased footprint (food, shelter, sanitation, gas) of more people. We  sent two team members back on Monday and one on Tuesday from our UMV team because we weren’t using them. We normally have a dedicated data manager but sent them back to further reduce our footprint. There are no gas stations open or hotels that aren’t already booked.
If you are flying at Harvey, even for an agency, be aware of manned and unmanned aircraft and TFRs. The Part 107 exam isn’t sufficient for understanding how disasters work- for example each jurisdiction will have an Airboss, director of Air Operators, and UAS have to coordinate with them. (Justin Adams is serving as AirBoss for Fort Bend.)  TFRs are important. Fort Bend just posted a TFR which the FAA emailed everyone about. The TFR means you can’t fly without explicitly coordinating with the agency posted as holding the TFR (generally the incident commanders designate an agency to manage it- often it is someone from the forestry service).  As you fly in areas without a TFR, there are a lot of tactical helicopter operations and medivac ops plus Blackhawks zooming around at low altitudes that you have to be aware of.  These things don’t show up airmap.io. Plus the use of UAS may not be advertised or posting to social media but many EOCs are using them, for example, CRASAR has been flying all over Fort Bend since Friday but didn’t post anything to social media about until yesterday (because publicity is low priority).
Which leads to, if you are flying, please remind the agency you are working for to check with their ICS staff on the AirOps hierarchy. We’ve seen agencies that fall under the county or city jurisdictions not realize that they need to coordinate their UAV use with AirOps just like they would if they were using a manned helicopter or CAP asset.  And if they promise to pay a UAV team and didn’t follow the hierarchy, they don’t get paid and thus may not pay the UAV team.
Finally be sensitive to the citizens. High resolution images of someone trapped on a roof is moving and compelling video but it can also come across as the pilot trying to benefit from someone’s suffering (even if you aren’t being paid, “likes” on a YouTube count in this category).

Hurricane Harvey: CRASAR deployed since 8/25 to Fort Bend County OEM

Experts in unmanned aerial and marine systems from the Texas A&M’s Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) have been assisting Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management with Hurricane Harvey. Volunteer teams from the center’s Roboticists Without Borders program arrived on Friday and began immediately using small drones to support rapidly mapping areas at risk and estimating flooding, while another team employed a miniature robot boat with sonar to project river flow rates.   As Harvey hit, the drone teams shifted to surveying tornado damage and identifying neighbors cut off and in need of help. The boat, which is covered with enough floatation to support people and can pull a line to trapped people, has stayed on call for swift water rescue. CRASAR lead pilot, Justin Adams, is serving as Air Operations branch director, coordinating all air operations for manned and unmanned aircraft within the county.

The drone teams are drawn from researchers and students at the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station plus  Adams and Jess Gingrich (USAA). The teams use three different inexpensive DJI platforms.  The EMILY robot boats and experts are provided by Hydronalix, an Arizona company who has been active with CRASAR in humanitarian rescue of boat refugees in Greece, and lead by Capt. John Sims. A drone team from the Florida State University Center for Disaster Risk Policy will join the effort later in the week.

This is the fifth hurricane response that CRASAR has participated in. Under the direction of Dr. Robin Murphy, a professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M, CRASAR was the first group to fly small drones for a disaster, which was at Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The center has been working with Fort Bend County OEM for two years, learning from the county’s diverse emergency professionals on best practices for applying economical unmanned systems to save lives and accelerate economic recovery after a major meteorological event.

Videos from the unmanned system teams will be available through the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management YouTube channel.

Hurricane Harvey: CRASAR deployed since 8/25 to Fort Bend County OEM

Experts in unmanned aerial and marine systems from the Texas A&M’s Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) have been assisting Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management with Hurricane Harvey. Volunteer teams from the center’s Roboticists Without Borders program arrived on Friday and began immediately using small drones to support rapidly mapping areas at risk and estimating flooding, while another team employed a miniature robot boat with sonar to project river flow rates.   As Harvey hit, the drone teams shifted to surveying tornado damage and identifying neighbors cut off and in need of help. The boat, which is covered with enough floatation to support people and can pull a line to trapped people, has stayed on call for swift water rescue. CRASAR lead pilot, Justin Adams, is serving as Air Operations branch director, coordinating all air operations for manned and unmanned aircraft within the county.

The drone teams are drawn from researchers and students at the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station plus  Adams and Jess Gingrich (USAA). The teams use three different inexpensive DJI platforms.  The EMILY robot boats and experts are provided by Hydronalix, an Arizona company who has been active with CRASAR in humanitarian rescue of boat refugees in Greece, and lead by Capt. John Sims. A drone team from the Florida State University Center for Disaster Risk Policy will join the effort later in the week.

This is the fifth hurricane response that CRASAR has participated in. Under the direction of Dr. Robin Murphy, a professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M, CRASAR was the first group to fly small drones for a disaster, which was at Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The center has been working with Fort Bend County OEM for two years, learning from the county’s diverse emergency professionals on best practices for applying economical unmanned systems to save lives and accelerate economic recovery after a major meteorological event.

Videos from the unmanned system teams will be available through the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management YouTube channel.

Free UAS Awareness and Best UAS Practices for Emergency Management Class at Governor’s Hurricane Conference

Roboticists Without Borders offered two sessions of a 3.5 hour class consisting of three modules: unmanned systems awareness, unmanned aerial systems awareness, and best UAS practices at the 2017 Governor’s Hurricane Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida. Over 35 emergency professionals representing over 28 local and state agencies attended and received certificates for participation. The class targeted chiefs and managers who are interested in what UAS (and robots in general) have been used for, what are the costs including the hidden costs of manpower, training and maintenance, what are the regulatory issues, and how to handle public perception. The class also went through the types of missions involved in each major type of disaster and the associated unique CONOPS and workflows for each mission. The class emphasizes data management and how to get, and share, actionable data in real-time.

The modules were created by Florida State University Emergency Management and Homeland Security Program and the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue. The material is based on formal training created by CRASAR originally funded by the State of Florida, plus lessons learned from over 30 deployments by RWB members, and studies by FSU and Texas A&M. The modules are normally incorporated in a longer class with hands-on demonstrations of unmanned systems.

The class is offered for free as part of the RWB mission to accelerate the adoption of unmanned systems by emergency professionals.

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]https://youtu.be/If9BgRRk2bk[/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.

 

Dufek wins Best Field Paper Award at IEEE SSRR!

Left to right: Jan Dufek, Dr. Auke Ijspert, Dr. Kamilo Melo
Left to right: Jan Dufek, Dr. Auke Ijspert, Dr. Kamilo Melo

I am proud to announce that Jan Dufek’s paper on using a small tethered Fotokite UAV to control the EMILY unmanned marine surface vehicle to rescue drowning immigrants won the best field paper award at the IEEE International Symposium on Safety Security and Rescue Robotics in Lausanne, Switzerland, last week. Jan is one of my Ph.D. students.  The paper was the preliminary work over the spring semester that is now funded by the National Science Foundation RAPID program.

Jan received 200 Euros

Jan received 200 Euros and his paper will be published as a journal article in Frontiers, a European conference.

More details about the conference are at http://ssrrobotics.org, but there were over 100 attendees from 17 countries. IEEE SSRR is the only conference dedicated

More details about the conference are at http://ssrrobotics.org, but there were over 100 attendees from 17 countries. IEEE SSRR is the only conference dedicated to robots for  homeland security and humanitarian operations. It was established in 2002, with Dr. Howie Choset (CMU) and myself as founding co-chairs.

It was pretty dark so the photo is poor. Jan is on the left with conference chairs Dr. Auke Ijspeert and Dr. Kamilo Melo.

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 http://ssrrobotics.org/ 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, justin.adamas@datawinglobal.com , 832.653.1057

Dr. Robin Murphy, director for the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, robin.r.murphy@tamu.edu, 813.503.9881

For Hurricane Matthew: Quick Guide For Agencies Flying small Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS) for Emergencies

The illustrated version in pdf is here.

This quick guide is aimed at helping emergency managers quickly determine how they can exploit small unmanned aerial systems (like quadcopters).  The guide covers our best understanding of who can fly?  where can they fly?, and  any additional considerations in planning. Our best practices series has other documents on what kind of data you can expect to get, flight duration, etc., but this guide is about how the new regulations impact emergency managers. It is based on our SUAS deployments since 2005 and lessons learned from deployments by our colleagues.

 

WHO CAN FLY?

 

If members of your agency own a small UAS or have friends with a small UAS, they cannot fly at the disaster- even if they aren’t asking for money. The FAA has repeatedly ruled that a) disasters are a business or government activity and  b) if the UAV flight is a donation to a business or government, it is the same thing as if the business or government agency flew directly.

 

Therefore, the only people/companies who can fly are those with a:

  • Part 107 license. The license is new and many people/companies don’t have these yet.
  • 333 exemption. Essentially a business license versus of the COA. Many hobbyist declared themselves a company to get a 333.
  • COA. Essentially a government or academic license.

 

Your agency does not have to have the 107, 333, or COA– just formally invite the group to fly on your behalf. If the group has one of the above, there are three important caveats.

 

1. Controlled airspace. They can fly at a disaster in uncontrolled airspace, but will need special permissions for controlled airspace. Keep in mind, many densely populated areas will be in controlled airspace.

 

2.  They have to obey all the flight restrictions for their license, including Temporary Flight Restrictions. Getting permission to fly under a Temporary Flight Restriction does not give them permission to change up the rules, it only means that they are now coordinated with the rest of the air traffic who will expect them to obey the same rules as in normal flights.

 

3. 24 hour notifications before flights may be required.  If the group is flying under a 333 or COA, they have to post an online notice of intention to fly in a specific area, called a NOTAM, 24 hours in advance. So if you think you are going to have a group fly, have them declare as soon as you know. There is no downside to filing a NOTAM and then not flying.

 

 

WHERE CAN THEY FLY?

 

For planning purposes there are 3 types of airspaces: uncontrolled, controlled, and TFRUncontrolled means they can fly anywhere that is not controlled according to their license. TFR was covered above. That leaves the controlled airspace.

 

You can quickly determine if an area you want a group to fly in is in controlled airspace by going to:

 

https://app.airmap.io/

 

and enter the nearest town, then click the appropriate boxes.  What is “Controlled airspace” and what you have to do to get permission to fly in it will depend on whether the group has a) a Part 107 license or b) a 333 exemption or COA.

 

a. Determining Part 107 controlled airspace.  If the group has a 107, click on the menu on the left that says Controlled Airspace and “all”. You will get something like this:

 

 

 

 

Anything in shade means that it is controlled airspace. This means that they can fly only IF they have an airspace authorization that they have applied for in advance online and gotten approval. Note: the FAA system is backlogged by weeks, so for Matthew, this may not make possible to get approval fast enough.

 

b. Determining 333 or COA airspace.

 

Clear airmap and instead click on “blanket COA”. You should get something like this:

 

 

 

Any area in orange means that the airspace is off limits without additional permissions- no matter what altitude you are flying at.  The controlled airspace is due to airports. A local group may already have permission to fly in those areas, but may not. If not, permission to fly in controlled airspace on short notice is handled through an Emergency COA, also called ECOA, process. The process takes about 1 hour to get through the FAA- assuming you have the GPS coordinates of where you want to fly, the COA number, etc.

 

The key is that the tower has to approve the flights (actually the approve the process of letting them know where you’re flying, when you take off, land, etc.) and the FAA has to agree to the temporary extension of the current license.

 

  • Note about 333 exemption. ECOAs are granted only to businesses or agencies, not individuals doing business as. Too many quasi-hobbyists were trying to fly at disasters without working with a response agency.

 

 

ARE THEY ANY OTHER CONSIDERATIONS?

 

There are three considerations:

 

  • Data. The data (images, video) really belongs to your agency and needs to be handled as such. It may have personal identifying information. Some groups may routinely post videos and images to the web or tweet, which might not be appropriate. Therefore, you may want to make clear what the data management policies are applicable to flights on your behalf.

 

  • Privacy, state laws, or other regulations plus the public perception.  There may be state or local rules that impact the use of SUAS. Regardless, if you have a group flying SUAS for disasters, the residents will need to be aware that they are legitimate- plus the teams will be magnets for residents asking for help or assistance. So you will probably want to plan to have an agency representative in uniform or vest with the team.

 

  • Some SUAS may be software disabled from flying in TFR areas. DJI Phantom 3 and Inspires, which are very common, are now disabled by the manufacturer when a TFR is in place. So that may be something to discuss with your SUAS team.  DJI does have a procedure that allows agencies to override the software and fly up to 1.5 nautical miles from an airport, trusting the group to have obtained permissions.

Unmanned Systems and Hurricane Matthew: Lessons from 2010 Haiti Earthquake

As Hurricane Matthew approaches Haiti, it is hard not to think of the terrible devastation from the 2010 earthquake. The Haiti earthquake taught us some valuable lessons about the use of unmanned systems for the initial response to a disaster- that 0-24 hour period where emergency managers are trying to get an accurate assessment of the scope of the disaster and how to allocate resources to save lives immediately and mitigate any dangers, and to set in motion the plans and resources needed to protect lives and quality of life for the longer term. One key lesson is that bigger is better, at least for the initial aerial assessment. Another is to not forget about unmanned marine systems. These two lessons show up in other events such as other hurricanes and tsunamis. A lesson that did not come out of Haiti was that the effective use of unmanned systems in the 0-24 hour time period depends on communications. UAVs generate terabytes of imagery that are difficult to upload to the Cloud or file transfer/email to others.

 

In terms of unmanned aerial vehicles, Haiti makes an interesting case study. The Haitian government quickly put out an aviation notice that UAVs were prohibited. Period. That actually made sense given that there would be a lot of helicopters working at low altitudes, general air traffic control was complex enough, and that UAV coordination with air traffic control was still being worked out (and as of 2016, it’s not 100% resolved to this day). What was interesting was that the US Government put up a Global Hawk (see Peterson, Handbook of Surveillance Technologies, 3rd Edition) which provided aerial assessments of the extent of the damage without entering the Haitian airspace and two weeks later Predators were being used and coordinated with manned air traffic (see http://northshorejournal.org/high-tech-warbird-aids-haiti-relief-efforts). While on one Snowden-we-are-being-watched level, this may be disturbing to have drones able to see into other countries without violating airspace, on another it is wonderful. Emergency workers can get data without having to totally rework how multiple government agencies coordinate. The most important aspect of the use of military drones is that it illustrates that agencies need higher altitude, longer persistence UAVs geographically distributed disasters, in order to get the rapid coverage of damage (area X needs help) and state of the infrastructure (what is the best route to get resources there?). As we have seen with flooding in the US (we have a paper about to come out on this), small hobbyist-styles of UAVs are like flashlights illuminating small patches, while military drones are stadium lighting. Of course, big drones or Civil Air Patrol assets may not be available. This leads to the questions as to whether small hobbyists quadcopters can contribute, how to aggregate the data from hobbyists and send it (especially under low bandwidth conditions), and how can agencies handle the volumes of data and trust the data they are getting. These are some of the issues raised in my article at https://www.computer.org/csdl/mags/co/2016/05/mco2016050019-abs.html

 

The second lesson from Haiti in terms of unmanned systems is to not forget the value of unmanned marine vehicles. If the hurricane brings intensive flooding or high storm surges, then the underwater portions of the critical infrastructure are at risk. This means bridges (I’ll never forget crossing the bridge into Punta Gorda for Hurricane Charley and the team being told not to stop on the bridge because there was not way to know how safe the bridge was). Bridges are important but also ports and shipping channels. It also mean pipelines, which can be leaking and affecting the environment, and telecommunications (the 2015 Texas Memorial Day floods washed away the bridge and the telephone lines to Wemberly). In Haiti, the state of the ship channel was unknown (had any depths changed?) as was the over port (could it take the weight of cargo being unloaded onto the docks?). The traditional approach has been to use divers, but in Haiti, the Navy and Army MDSU 2 team used SeaBotix ROVs to speed up the assessment as noted in Disaster Robotics (https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/disaster-robotics).

 

Disaster Robotics has more information about unmanned systems at the 2010 Haitian earthquake.