Students Use Drones To Survey Tornado Damage

Thursday, May 18th 2017, 9:27 pm
By: Grant Hermes

In the aftermath of some of Oklahoma's strongest storms, the need to rescue the trapped and get a sense of tole can't happen fast enough. In the aftermath of Oklahoma's most recent storms something different can be seen above the wreckage – drones.

“Right after an emergency happens we can get out there and show ‘hey there's a person stuck in this house or hey there's damage over here,’” Student pilot Mike Morgan said.

Morgan, 21, and his classmates came all the way from Daytona Beach, Florida. Courtesy of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, hired by the state to make the 21-hour drive to Elk City to survey damage.

“We pretty much fly about 15 minutes at time just taking pictures and video of the damage,” Morgan said.

The drones take photos and 4K video with incredible detail, every pixel of the digital images equals a single square inch being monitored from the back of trailer.

The photos were also sent to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management simultaneously. The group’s director, Dr. Joe Cooper, said the ODEM tracks the data and creates a “mosaic” or composite of all the photos to get a full picture of post-storm destruction.

The drones were also equipped with infrared cameras that can identify heat signatures, while not strong enough to see through walls, they're still useful when the clock is ticking during search and rescues. The students also said there are vast implications for insurance companies and consumers looking to get a better assessment of total damage.

“We're trying to become first responders or be a tool for them so we can help them out and give them a view right up close,” said Morgan.