Ed O'Grady

Hurricane Harvey recovery

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I think we can all agree that thoughts and prayers are with the coastal residents of Texas.  When it's over, it's going to be interesting to see the extent to which drones come into play.  Insurance companies are a lot further along than they were even less than a year ago when we got hit with Matthew.  We might just see some positive news come out of it all.

 

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Hopefully, there won't be a need but if there is then maybe drones will have a positive impact on search and rescue, insurance and overall situational awareness.

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Regrettably, I expect that there will be a massive need and I agree that drones might be a positive force for folks that think we're just invading their privacy!

 

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And just to add....Let's see, after the storm, what companies use what company drones, and who uses company employed pilots vs contracted folks, and on and on.  At least in terms of disaster recovery, this event will be a harbinger of the immediate future for this particular aspect of commercial drone ops.  I think I already know how it will turn out - not going to be the consumer brands!

 

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YES logged onto the forum tonight to post this. Sending warm thoughts to those in the path and hoping for minimal damage and a speedy recovery. Also selfishly hope that we'll see sUAS being used for good to help assess damage, locate victims, etc.

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Alan, let's hope for all of that!  I learned last year what it's like to evacuate by order and the uncertainty that followed - 5 days!  Well, we did have a bit of a party - just sayin'

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There's lots of coverage of boats,  not much coverage or use of drones.

im guessing as the weather clears drones will take to the sky's.  Also there's widespread power outages which if you weren't prepared would greatly inhibit your ability to fly.  I'm sure availablity to power will be sketchy for several days, if not weeks.

if I could afford it I would send two or three teams to see if we could help.

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As they often do, NBC Nightly has been running some drone footage but I think you're right about the lack of power for those that don't have the same facilities as a remote broadcast vehicle.  More will come I'm sure.

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I saw in a UAV Legal News & Discussion Facebook group that one of their moderators and a few other folks are driving down to Texas. Details below:

Parker Gyokeres, Jes Chosid, Tyris Audronis, Brian Scott, and myself (Daniel Herbert) will be flying unmanned aircraft ("drones") under an FAA issued CoA in Texas for The American Red Cross and other efforts. We have a couple of Phantom 4 Pro units, Inspire 1 and Inspire 2 units in our arsenal. Jes and myself will be driving down on the approximate path shown below. Trying to rapidly prepare for this unexpected journey, we're realizing that we need a few things. If any of you happen to be on or near this path and are willing to loan any of the below listed items, they'd be put to very good use and would be either dropped back off with you or shipped back asap. Of primary concern is batteries. Power and generators are extremely limited down there right now and the more we can fly without having to figure out charging, the more productive and helpful we can be. We will be leaving the NYC area around noon today (08/28). Thank you, in advance, for any assistance you can offer to help us use this amazing technology in such a productive way during this catastrophic event.

  • Phantom 4 / Phantom 4 Pro Batteries
  • Inspire 1 TB47/TB48 Batteries
  • Inspire 2 TB50 Batteries
  • Phantom 4 Professional
  • Small generator or portable power stations such as Goal Zero or River
  • Hip waders / large rubber boots / durable rain gear
  • High powered flashlights
 

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5 hours ago, Av8Chuck said:

There's lots of coverage of boats,  not much coverage or use of drones.

im guessing as the weather clears drones will take to the sky's.  Also there's widespread power outages which if you weren't prepared would greatly inhibit your ability to fly.  I'm sure availablity to power will be sketchy for several days, if not weeks.

if I could afford it I would send two or three teams to see if we could help.

Considering that the rainfall dumped to date is somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 feet with another 12 inches forecast for the next three days, there aren't a lot of places to takeoff and land at the moment. Add in high winds and it is not the ideal place to have a drone. I know one person using a jet ski on Houston streets to rescue stranded people. Oddly enough, the mayor of Houston decided against a mandatory evacuation order until this afternoon and now that the roads are basically all underwater, the only way out is by boat. Hopefully the loss of life is held to a minimum but the property damage is going to be huge.

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No doubt.

So why does the FAA feel the need to say anything?  Why assume the worst of drone operators?  Why can't drone operators be concerned citizens there to help where they can just like those with boats, cars or horses?

I hope some adventurous drone operators make their way to that area and can help find trapped people or animals etc..

 

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Gave my students an assignment to watch TV. To see if drones were being used to report the news or were being used in some way to help those in distress in Houston. Will let you know the results in two weeks when we meet again. Taft Drone club 

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FYI, just got this email from the FAA:

Hurricane Harvey Update

August 29 The Federal Aviation Administration continues to handle emergency and relief operations at a number of airports in the Hurricane Harvey area, including at Houston Hobby and George Bush Intercontinental. The FAA is prepared to support the resumption of commercial service flights when airport authorities reopen the airports.

This Hurricane Harvey information is critical so that first responders can conduct rescue and recovery operations.   

Drone Users: The FAA warns unauthorized drone operators that flying a drone could interfere with the U.S. National Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Texas Military Department’s rescue and recovery missions as evacuations escalate due to rising water. You could be subject to significant fines if you interfere with emergency response operations. Flying a drone without authorization in or near the disaster area may violate federal, state, or local laws and ordinances, even if a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is not in place. Allow first responders to save lives and property without interference.

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Like I said, it's a good thing that the other agencies involved with this disaster don't take the same position as the FAA.  I guess it comes down to the definition of first responders.

Do you really think that anyone cares if a drone, a boat or a dog finds them trapped by the water somewhere?  I don't know how it's going today, but previous reports have been mostly about the heroism of local citizens to help one another in any way possible.

The Nice thing for drone operators [this is a joke], there's no power so they don't have access to a cell phone, the internet or a computer to get this stupid warning by the FAA.

 

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It will be interesting to see all the different applications of drones over the next few months in support of the recovery.   

I imagine insurance will be right up there...

 

 

 

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I was at ground zero Rockport Texas for Hurricane Harvey.  The eye came over me at about 10pm that night.  The next morning I wanted to fly but it was still raining.  It was a real mess there when the sun came up.  Later in the day I saw a Coast Guard helicopter but that was it then I drove out.  We knew Houston and other areas were going to flood because of the computer forecast models had an astonishing 50 inches of rain for that area.  I measured a pressure of 940.9mb in the eye which lasted 45 min.  We had one photog photograph the stars in the eye, with the eyewall clouds lit by lightning.  Amazing shot.  You can fly the aftermath but you have to get there for the storm IMO otherwise it's too crowded with other aircraft surveying the damage.  It will still be pretty windy too with the onshore winds.  If you stay low I don't see a problem unless they slap a TFR on you.

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Nobody here can deny that there are those out there that are going to do things the wrong way, with no regard for rules, regulations, or safety. However, I'm pretty certain that those of you as involved enough to participate in this forum are the exception... that you are the better half that do care about doing things the right way.

That being said, as one of the people who is responsible for flight deconfliction and dispatching for the 19 Coast Guard H65, 11 Coast Guard H60, 9 CBP, 7 Air Force, Army, Texas Task Force, and a handful of other helicopters from other agencies, I am very concerned about people thinking it's ok to fly without authorization during the TFR. Helicopters picking up people off rooftops don't do so above 400, so people flying drones in areas where there is a massive rescue effort that calls for flying at lower altitudes is a definite cause for concern.

I find it VERY fortunate that we had only one close call... one of the Air Force pilots encountered a stationery drone at her 9:00, and slightly above, approximately 50-60 feet away while she was in a hover during a hoist from about 40 feet. It wasn't noticed until the pilot started to slide left to where she could lower her swimmer to ground level between two homes. Perhaps the drone user thought because he was off to the side, and not moving, he was safe. But obviously that could have ended up horribly different. Aside from that incident, two other pilots did report drones in unauthorized air space.

So long story short... THANK YOU to those of you who are responsible and are doing things the right way. 

 

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Anything people do to assist in the recovery effort and save lives is a great thing.  @dhoffman98 , it sounds like your working these issues first hand so thanks for your service.

I'd like to point several things out about this situation that I'm sure some will perceive as negative.  It isn't.  

2 hours ago, dhoffman98 said:

However, I'm pretty certain that those of you as involved enough to participate in this forum are the exception... that you are the better half that do care about doing things the right way.

I've been doing drones since about 2008, in all that time there has not been a single death attributed to civil drones, very few serious injuries reported and no midair collisions with manned aviation.  When taking that into consideration and the fact that there are very few people on this forum at any given time, I would say that there are a LOT of responsible drone operators out there.

2 hours ago, dhoffman98 said:

That being said, as one of the people who is responsible for flight deconfliction and dispatching for the 19 Coast Guard H65, 11 Coast Guard H60, 9 CBP, 7 Air Force, Army, Texas Task Force, and a handful of other helicopters from other agencies

So there are 40+ aircraft covering how many hundreds of square miles?  Over how many tens of thousands of homes?  And how many of those 40+ aircarft are in the air at the same time?    That's a huge area that is affecting hundreds of thousands of people.  I'm sure it's a sizable job to manage the logistics of keeping that amount of resource on mission but I'm sure there are areas that have not been flown over, or boats have reached or official first responders have shone a light on etc..

2 hours ago, dhoffman98 said:

So long story short... THANK YOU to those of you who are responsible and are doing things the right way. 

I'm not there so I have no way of knowing first hand the degree of devastation.  I'm a military trained pilot and have flown these kinds of natural disasters while in the army so I have some experience. Enough to know that the "official" response is never enough.  Sadly this is reaching the time where this situation is going to go from rescue to recovery and there are probably thousands of homes that have not been inspected that may have people trapped or incapable of getting help.  This is an extraordinary situation where ALL the people involved have to use every means available to them and onlookers will have to trust the ingenuity of the people making those decisions.  So I guess it depends on the definition of responsibility.

As a helicopter pilot I can say this, if your a first responder and your looking for the FAA to provide you a safe space, don't leave the ground.  Drones are probably about the most benign threat to their safety.  I'm not suggesting that drone operators launch to produce YouTube videos but I have a great deal of confidence that the majority of drone operators caught in this situation that they will make the best decision on how and when to use their drones.

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Thank you Chuck. I appreciate your thoughts and the caution about negative comments. I do not take them as negative, but constructive for discussion. Negative would be people flaming me with horrible and/or foul language because somehow me expressing an opinion is just wrong. So thank you for not simply doing that and for being more open to conversation.

I do agree with you on some points. The first being that the number of responsible drone owners seems to far outweigh those that are unsafe or that violate rules, regulations, or laws. I have no argument about that. And you would be correct to point out that while I used the words "the better half" to describe those of us who are responsible, I did not mean for that to be taken literally or to imply that 50% of drone users are bad. So I will apologize if that was taken literally.

Regarding deconfliction, you are correct that there were over 40 helicopters, and you are correct that there are hundreds of square miles. I'm not really sure what your comments about this were meant to accomplish. Your comment wasn't intended to debate whether people flying drones in the area of rescues was appropriate, responsible, or safe... not to mention, legal. Your comment said nothing about drones or safety of drones in the proximity of a helicopter. Your comment came across as more of a slam when you wrote "I'm sure there are areas that have not been flown over, or boats have reached or official first responders have shone a light on". What does that have to do with drones in the area being in violation of the TFRs?

On that note... not everywhere experienced severe flooding at the same time. Not all of the floodways became saturated, or breached their banks at the same time. On Sunday, there were some parts of the Greater Houston area that were completely flooded, and in some cases, were unreachable by high load vehicles or boats. And in those instances, we were able to pick people off rooftops and take them to safer locations where they were able to use ground transportation. And at those time, there may have been 6, 10, even 15 helicopters within ONE square mile. Many of our rescues were medical evacuations, situations in which people couldn't just wait for a boat to happen by or hope that the water receeded enough that a vehicle could get to them. 

Monday was a different story, then Tuesday a huge majority of our cases were in Port Arthur and Beaumont... again very small common areas where the density of aircraft flying at the same time in proximity to each other was tight.

You then wrote "there are probably thousands of homes that have not been inspected that may have people trapped or incapable of getting help", and in most cases it would be a fair assumption... except that there are other aircraft tasked to our area besides the low altitude ones I was working with. Without going into much detail, the group that ran those aircraft were working in our command center with us, and showed how they were able to identify people and animals in homes.

Anyhow... I think I just went way off the tangent you already went off on. Hahaha. Either way. This discussion was really about drones and how they may be helpful in disaster recovery scenarios. I do NOT oppose that idea at all. I do believe there is a time when that is going to become more real. And I hope that the drone community can work along side other first responders so that there is some coordination of those efforts.

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I'm glad that you didn't take offense to what I was trying to say.  I'm not the best writer.  

What I appreciate from your post is that you're doing, while most on forums are just talking, in this case, me included.

6 hours ago, dhoffman98 said:

Regarding deconfliction, you are correct that there were over 40 helicopters, and you are correct that there are hundreds of square miles. I'm not really sure what your comments about this were meant to accomplish.

Simply that the scope of this catastrophe is huge, drones could certainly help provide better situational awareness in areas that are difficult for full-size aircraft to reach or had not had the time to search a particular area.  

If I were on the ground there and I felt endangered and I thought a drone would help improve my chance of survival I would not hesitate to launch a drone or if I thought a drone could locate a missing person, I'd assess the situation and if I didn't see any immediate conflict I'd launch.

This is an extraordinary situation where it's not so black and white, this is one of those situations where there is a difference between the "letter" of the law and the "intent" of the law.

And I guess that the other part of my point is that given the history of commercial drone operations, in this situation I'd give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who chooses to use a drone to assistant in the rescue of anyone.  Why is that different than the Cajon Navy, I'm pretty sure it's illegal to drive a boat on the freeway yet the Coast Guard is being praised for the way that it's handling this situation.  

6 hours ago, dhoffman98 said:

Your comment came across as more of a slam when you wrote "I'm sure there are areas that have not been flown over, or boats have reached or official first responders have shone a light on". What does that have to do with drones in the area being in violation of the TFRs?

Sorry, again this was in reference to the scope of the mission and how drones could extend the reach of first responders.  I flew UH-1's and AH-1's and when their low and slow everyone within a three block radius knows's your there. Honestly, I think if people were using drones in this situation they'd have the common sense to stay out of the way.  Also if there were people trapped and heard or saw a drown they could literally scream for help and have some chance of being heard.  Audio can be an important tool in locating people, there's no way to accomplish that with a full-size helicopter.  Of course, a drone can't rescue anyone.

Let's hope that the rescue effort continues to work as well as it apparently is and if drones are involved that they provide a level of effectiveness that might not be possible any other way.  

7 hours ago, dhoffman98 said:

Thank you Chuck. I appreciate your thoughts and the caution about negative comments. I do not take them as negative, but constructive for discussion.

Posting a statement from the FAA about a TFR is not a conversation starter.  Duh, there's a TFR...  But long after the military and manned aviation assets have left, after all the analysis of what worked and where we can improve, there will still be thousands of people trying to piece together the remainder of their lives.  What role could drones have in that rebuilding?  What role could drones play in routing traffic?  How can the commercial drone industry step up and deliver actionable information to the people who need it? And how can the government get out of the way and allow this to happen?

7 hours ago, dhoffman98 said:

Anyhow... I think I just went way off the tangent you already went off on.

Maybe being off topic is a good thing.  There's a lot more to discuss in both your's and JTE's comments, isn't that what forums are for?

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Coming from the perspective of being actually on-site at relief efforts in Rockport, TX and wanting to help relief organizations by doing mapping and such we have noticed that drones are really not having a significant use case in the early stages of disaster management.  The earliest phases are search and rescue where there are active emergency issues where people's lives are in danger and death is a clear and present risk.  For these phases drones just "get in the way", so to speak, of the search and rescue vehicles and personnel that have priority and right-of-way in the airspace.  Only in few and specific instances have drones been really useful and used effectively and safely that a rescue helicopter or boat or other specialized vehicle have not done the better job.  These have been mostly in cases of good Samaritan rescue efforts that don't have the resources of heli/boat/vehicle and the drone was used to drop something or locate people otherwise not visible from ground.  In a dense disaster zone like Houston the air traffic is heavy and the risk of collision just doesn't make the case for drone usage to be wise.

Where drones do seem to be more effective is in the relief work phase - like mapping affected areas with high resolution detail - and then the documentation phase for insurance, FEMA, media, etc (photos for insurance claims, FEMA relief funding, media relations, etc.)  These phases make sense for drone use that can do the work of many in a shorter amount of time or are cheaper alternatives to expensive mapping systems like airplanes, helicopters or satellite (more on this later).  This relief work phase typically has less low flying air traffic and you have a more controlled environment to work within.

We were trying to plan some mapping missions in the airspace where there is no TFR and outside of the 5 mile radius of local airports and what we found was that the mapping software we were using already had an updated map of the mission area which we presumed was provided by satellite imagery that was *very* recently captured.  It looks like the satellite mapping systems were tasked and redirected to the disaster area and had reasonably high resolution maps already shot, stitched and uploaded to the mapping provider before we even set foot in the area.  This again lowers the use-case validity of drones doing mapping on a large scale since satellites are already up in the sky capturing data infinitely faster and safer than we as drone pilots ever could.  No, the resolution is not as good but that's not what disaster relief planning really cares about.  They just want an updated map they can use to deploy materiel and personnel effectively to the most affected areas and have an overview of what the area looks like.  Think "Central Command" in a military scenario - details are good but not absolutely vital in the case of command and control.  You don't need to read the text on the tank to know it's a tank.

To sum up the search and rescue phase of disaster management is just too chaotic, collision-risky and communication-difficult to plan, coordinate and stay safe effectively.  We have our place as drone pilots but let's not put our interests ahead of others by being gun-ho to fly even if it is for good intentions.  I wanted to help in Houston so bad I could taste it.  I just didn't want to cause more problems than these poor folks already had.

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Thanks Tony for such a detailed update.  

Curious, did you travel to Huston hoping to help or were you already there?  If I lived there I'd be screaming out of an upstairs window "get that boat off my front lawn..."  I'm old, good for you for making the effort.

Since the military was so involved I wonder if the higher resolution maps might have been produced by Predator or Global Hawk type drones?  The timing is equally impressive when you consider satellites can't see through clouds or be repositioned. A larger "military" drone could have been flown well above traffic but below the weather to capture data.  Again, nothing to do with commercial drone operators, really just curious how they were able to accomplish this?  

Also, want to thank two of our more recent members, @dhoffmanp8 and Tony Acerra for reaching out and providing such thoughtful insight in the midst of this emergency.  I hope you'll continue to share your experience so that as a community we can help develop workflows, payloads, and solutions that can help the recovery. 

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