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Drone Team Supports Disaster Efforts in Texas

August 28, 2017

The college's Emergency Management and Homeland Security (EMHS) program is responding to Hurricane Harvey in Fort Bend County, Texas. The team leaves for the storm-damaged area early in the morning of August 30.

The EMHS Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) team will partner with Texas A&M Center for Robotic Assisted and Search and Rescue (CRASAR) to perform damage assessment of critical infrastructure.

In addition, the team will be supporting Fort Bend County emergency management as they assess the conditions of 145,000 evacuated homes. Fort Bend County is located on the Brazos River on the east side of the Houston metro area. County officials have issued mandatory and voluntary evacuations of neighborhoods close to the river,.

The images provided by the FSU team will be used by emergency managers for situational awareness, and will be shared with local, state and federal emergency managers to speed up the recovery and reimbursement process.

Led by EMHS Director David Merrick, the team includes faculty members Jarrett Broder and Robert McDaniel, staff member Mason Johnson and student Mike McDaniel. They expect to be in the Houston area for at least a week.

The EMHS UAS program has a Certificate of Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly nationwide for public safety. In an exercise on the Florida State University campus and other locations around Tallahassee, August 10, the UAS program demonstrated for officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state emergency agencies the effectiveness of using UAS (aka "drones") for disaster assessment. See the full story on that exercise at this link.

Back in Tallahassee, EMHS students are also getting an opportunity to serve in the crisis. As part of the Virtual Operations Support Team (VOST) established in 2012, student volunteers are working with FEMA to monitor social media for issues relating to donations. VOST typically works with the State of Florida in emergencies, such as last year's Hurricane Hermine, but the group was asked to assist in Texas because of the scope and scale.

VOST has proven crucial in providing situational awareness to emergency managers during disasters by monitoring what people in disaster areas are saying they need. It is a unique opportunity for students to gain real-world disaster experience from the safety of their own living rooms.

To learn more about FSU UAS visit this link.


Student Mike McDaniel and EMHS Director David Merrick prepare small drone equipment prior to an August 30 trip to Texas in support of disaster assessment following Hurricane Harvey.