Hurricane Florence. Photo courtesy of NASA
A Miami-based unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operator is calling on the public to take care before flying their drones during the hurricane expected to batter the U.S. East Coast this week.
Though some drone operators might have good intentions in deploying their aircraft in disasters, "the fact is that most drone operators do not possess the fundamental training, skills and experience to be truly effective," Airborne Response Founder and President Christopher Todd said in an emailed newsletter.
The coasts of North and South Carolina and Virginia are under a hurricane watch, with some areas under mandatory evacuations, as a storm surge approaches and is expected to make landfall as early as Wednesday night. The U.S. National Hurricane Center has categorized Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Helene to be Category 4 hurricanes. Forecasts say flooding and dangerous winds are in store for nearby regions, including West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Drones recently have been deployed on successful lifesaving missions, like one that dropped an inflatable life raft to stranded swimmers off the coast of Australia.
Todd cautions drone pilots to never self-deploy and learn about major disaster response operations. A start would be to obtain FAA Part 107 remote pilot certification. Most disaster response training for drone pilots includes learning to prep gear before a storm and getting trained on using the Incident Command System, among other tools, Todd said.
Those who wish to help should take cues from similar agencies and groups that are already gearing up to assist. Journalists with FAA Part 107 certification plan to deploy some UAS to help cover the storm for national media. Todd cites an effort by the state of North Carolina to create a UAS disaster response database, which provides emergency personnel with qualified pilots who are able to provide their services.
Todd recalls response efforts after Hurricane Irma devastated parts of Florida in 2017 where well-meaning unofficial first responders wound up needing to be rescued themselves.
"That Good Samaritan who just traveled several hours to help save the residents of the Florida Keys now found themselves parked on the side of US 1 with no gasoline, no hotel room and probably no ability to make a telephone call," he said. "They just became a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution."