A wave of the future for post-storm assessments will likely be drones that fly over areas following storms or floods to evaluate damage, plan responses for cleanup and give residents a probable timeline on when they can return.
The Alabama Flood Engagement Team heard presentations about the technology at its quarterly meeting Feb. 10 at the Five Rivers Alabama Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort. SAFE-T was formed and began having meetings in the summer of 2018. Quarterly meetings are funded by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) on a state level and federally by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“The informal group was started to create a network of flood management practitioners in South Alabama,” Coordinator Amy Gohres said. “The thought was that sharing flood-related challenges, solutions and resources across our communities would increase capacity. So, rather than just working individually, communities in Mobile and Baldwin counties can work together to address flooding issues.”
Gohres works under contract with the Baldwin County Soil and Water Conservation District with ADCNR. Many local Emergency Management Agency (EMA) officials were at the meeting hoping to learn from presenters Chris Litton, Matt McCrary and Sean Brumley of the city of Orange Beach and Denis Riordan with NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey.
“We hope that community officials walk away with a better understanding of how aerial imagery can be used after floods and severe storms,” Gohres said. “As with all SAFE-T meetings, we will also provide a forum for attendees to share ideas and ask questions. Our goal is to create an opportunity for relationship building across jurisdictional boundaries.”
Litton, the logistics and safety coordinator with Orange Beach, also acts as EMA’s points of distribution coordinator following storms in the city. He said the fledgling program is something he, McCrary and Brumley are studying, but have yet to use in a disaster.
“The drone program we presented is in the conceptual stage and we are still figuring out how and if we will be able to fully implement it after a storm,” Litton said. “The main obstacle we are facing right now is that everyone involved with this program already has critical duties post-event but, as a project, we are working toward being able to implement it. Our main goal is to get residents back to their property as quickly and safely as possible after a storm.”
Riordan reviewed the agency’s role in emergency response imagery collection, and how it can be accessed and used by local officials after severe storms.
“After floods and severe storms, there can be a time period when flooded streets, downed trees and downed power lines can restrict access to certain areas — for both evacuated residents and for local community officials,” Gohres said. “Additionally, sometimes devastation can be so widespread that it takes some time to evaluate the extent of the damage and impacts.”
During the meeting, local officials heard about techniques using the new technology that can make those evaluations quickly.
“Drones are a means to quickly assess the situation from above while keeping residents and workers safely away from known [and unknown] hazards,” Gohres said.
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