NCDOT using drones as new tool for natural disaster response

North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT)

RODANTHE, N.C. (WAVY) — The North Carolina Department of Transportation plans to use drones as a new tool for natural disaster response.

Recently, a team from NCDOT’s Division of Aviation Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program Office teamed up with the Highway Division 1 Office on a test exercise designed to explore the benefits of drones as a disaster response planning tool.

Three drones were flown by the UAS team over uninhabited parts of N.C. 12 on Hatteras Island between the Bonner Bridge and Buxton. Footage was gathered of the beach, roadway and sound that can later be compared to drone footage taken after a disaster, such as a hurricane or nor’easter.

NCDOT says this type of imaging is traditionally done by manned aircraft. Drones wouldn’t replace them, but would work together to fill a special niche: Providing quicker responses and more low-level, small-area surveys.

“Given the speed at which conditions can change on the coast, having an information-gathering tool that can be quickly and easily deployed could prove invaluable the next time a major storm hits,” a news release from NCDOT says. “All of this is done with the goal of helping emergency response planners make decisions on where to most effectively distribute their resources and efforts during an event.”

The drones were flown below 400 feet, during the day and never over any homes or people. Permission from the National Park Service was secured for flights over wildlife refuge areas.

“Both teams learned a lot about operational logistics on the Outer Banks’ unique environment, which would be applied to an actual natural disaster event,” Said UAS Project Manager Basil Yap. “Conditions here can change fast in a storm, and we feel confident that drones can handle the rapid response data gathering that emergency responders will need to make informed decisions.”