Next Step in Emergency Preparedness, Response During June 20 Exercise
By David Yoel
Founder & CEO, American Aerospace
At the southern tip of New Jersey – where hurricanes can strike with destructive force— emergency management officials are looking at new ways of communicating and providing community support in the aftermath of a disaster.
The biggest new tool from American Aerospace Technologies Inc. (AATI) is an unmanned, fixed wing aircraft system (UAS) flown at medium-altitudes (higher than smaller, multi-rotor drones but lower than high-altitude vehicles) that can serve as first responders eyes and ears in the sky. With a 17-foot wingspan, the aircraft carries a payload that in partnership with Verizon includes a flying cell site, and advanced imaging and sensor equipment. The flying cell site is intended to provide wireless voice and data communications capabilities to areas where communications have been interrupted due to storm damage. The AATI imaging and sensor equipment, meanwhile, can relay pictures and other sensor data to first responders seeking information about post-storm conditions on the ground by utilizing backhaul from Verizon’s Airborne LTE service
The craft operates under a certificate of authorization (COA), or waiver, issued by the FAA to Cape May County for an 800-square mile area to conduct missions that will serve public purposes such as emergency response. The FAA began issuing certificates in 2016 under new rules designed to regulate unmanned craft, including popular consumer low-altitude, multi-rotor drones and commercial fixed-wing, medium-altitude unmanned aircraft. The aircraft is piloted by on-ground crews that are controlling the fixed-wing aircraft from a mobile command center where navigational, engineering and payload specialists guide and monitor the aircraft’s activity beyond their line of sight using radio and visual controls. Under the current waiver, the exercise will require a “chase” plane for operation of unmanned aircraft beyond line of sight. By using automated on-board equipment and eliminating the expenses driven by supporting a cockpit pilot and crew, the ultimate vision is for unmanned aircraft to operate more efficiently and at lower cost than similarly equipped manned aircraft.
The unique nature of the COA enables the County to obtain authorization for post-disaster use of unmanned aircraft to assist other local government agencies in need elsewhere along the eastern seaboard of the U.S., in appropriate circumstances.
In exercises conducted last October in conjunction with Verizon and American Aerospace, Cape May County successfully demonstrated that cell coverage could be provided via drone to first responders in the event of an emergency in which no traditional wireless service is available. The trial also demonstrated how drones can perform critical aerial surveying of infrastructure impact to roads and bridges to aid first responders’ safety and rapid response.
In April 2017, yet another flight exercise was conducted under the County’s COA to aid public safety. “We are strong believers that drone technology will serve many important public purposes,” said County Freeholder Will Morey. “We are especially delighted to support development of any tools that will assist our first responder community.” http://capemaycountynj.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=371 . This week, first responders in Cape May will be among the first public safety officials in the world to experience the advantages of airborne enterprise systems — including airborne LTE operations, aerial imagery and sensor data — in a full-scale exercise in Cape May.
Marty Pagliughi, Cape May County Office of Emergency Management coordinator, has said the two biggest uses for UAS in terms of emergency management would be communications and damage assessment, including “ live situation reports, live stream situation reports and damage assessments, and show(ing) access points for emergency service vehicles.” https://americanaerospacenews.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/800-square-miles-around-cape-may-airport-certified-for-drone-operations/