Wednesday, September 22, 2021

UAS Innovators Complete Functional Drill to Enable Drone Integration into Emergency Response

Imagine a category five hurricane has just wreaked havoc throughout southern New Jersey, especially along the coastlines. Before emergency responders can even be dispatched, a fleet of unmanned aircraft is deployed to gather intelligence and provide emergency personnel with real-time mapping and imagery of damaged areas, evacuation routes, utility lines and even people in distress. This scenario was simulated today with drones flying test missions and transmitting the data back to a simulated Emergency Operations Center in the Thunder Room, a state-of-the-art conference facility at the National Aviation Research and Technology Park (NARTP), one of the sponsoring agencies for the drill, along with Cape May County and the Smart Airport Aviation Partnership (SAAP).

For the first time in New Jersey, the emergency response drill used both manned aircraft and unmanned drones for the purpose of maximizing first responder support after an emergency. The drill, with drones fully integrated, was managed by American Aerospace Technologies, Inc (AATI), and many partners and participants. It was the second phase of a two-part functional drill in Southern New Jersey that demonstrated how unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can support recovery efforts immediately after a natural disaster in the State of New Jersey.

In May, participants and observers consisting of local, state and federal government agencies, industry partners, and emergency management agencies conducted the first phase, a tabletop exercise addressing the framework for deploying manned and unmanned aircraft systems (e.g., drones) to assist first responders in events such as hurricanes. The tabletop exercise served as a learning experience for government agencies on how manned aircraft and UAS might be able to work together, or “integrate,” in the skies during emergency response. Currently, UAS are not typically permitted to assist.

“Unmanned aircraft are a post-disaster force multiplier,” said David Yoel, AATI CEO. “In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, UAS can provide critical information to first responders, accelerating response while increasing the safety and effectiveness of first responders. The goal of the 2021 South Jersey Emergency Response Exercise is to begin to develop an air operations coordination and approval process that enables UAS and conventional aircraft to operate concurrently – without adding risk to conventional aircraft operations, potentially accelerating response and recovery by days.”

This morning’s simulated hurricane event was very timely, with the start of hurricane season earlier this month. Several small UAS and a large UAS were dispatched to multiple locations throughout the counties from the Woodbine Municipal Airport in Woodbine, NJ. Once each aircraft was on site at their respective locations, they streamed live imagery data to the simulated Emergency Operations Center.

While NARTP and SAAP provided their insight into the policy behind emergency response processes, AATI, along with other participants, demonstrated multiple unmanned aircraft solutions that could one day be called to action during a real event.

“These unmanned aircraft systems, often called drones, can be valuable tools in emergency response, but they are not yet used widely in emergency response due to concerns about impeding manned aircraft, like helicopters, performing low altitude search and rescue missions,” said Howard Kyle, President and CEO of the National Aviation Research and Technology Park. “This emergency response drill will provide invaluable information to emergency management officials and first responders. This exercise is an example of the important research and technology events that are sponsored regularly at the NARTP.”

The Emergency Response Exercise, led by NARTP, was conducted by a consortium of private companies and local, state, and federal agencies, including Atlantic Cape Community College, Atlantic City Fire Department, Atlantic City Electric, Atlantic City OEM, Cape May County OEM, Delaware River and Bay Authority, FAA SOSC, New Jersey Dept. of Corrections, NJ Board of Public Utilities, New Jersey Innovation Institute, New Jersey State Police, North Wildwood OEM, Salem County OEM, SJ Industries, Sunhillo, and the U.S. Coast Guard SDB.

“All parties involved are grateful to the United States Economic Development Administration, which funded a significant portion of the important research done today through an Innovation Challenge Grant to the Southern New Jersey region,” said Carole Mattessich, Director of Smart Airport Aviation Partnership. “Additionally, several of the private companies involved in the exercise participated at their own considerable expense. That’s how important this work is and the implications for public safety in times of emergency response cannot be overstated.”

Examples of how UAS technologies were applied during the exercise include:

American Aerospace Technologies (AATI) https://www.americanaerospace.com: AATI demonstrated its long-endurance medium altitude UAS, the AiRanger™, providing real-time mapping of “affected areas” and evacuation routes—providing real-time imagery to government officials of the magnitude of the damage and the current condition of the roadways using its InstiMaps™ Automatic Threat Detection System (ATDS) and TASE imaging payload.

Sky Scape Industries (SSI) https://www.skyscapeinds.com: A leader in infrastructure inspection utilizing small UAS, SSI provided both a bridge and a powerline inspection simultaneously, real-time analysis of the simulated “downed powerline” situation and a damaged barrier island bridge.

AeroDefense https://www.aerodefense.tech: A leader in counter-UAS technology, AeroDefense demonstrated their drone detection system, providing actionable intelligence of non-cooperating drones operating in a defined area.

New Jersey American Water https://www.amwater.com/njaw: The largest water and wastewater utility company in the state demonstrated real-time mapping and surveillance of a water transmission line on a Jersey Shore barrier island, presented as damaged after the simulated hurricane.

Arke Aeronautics https://www.arkeaeronautics.com: Arke demonstrated how its situational intelligence software platform connects First Responders to multiple information streams in real-time. Arke sends instant notifications with customized response dashboards to responders’ smartphones and tablets to help them form a common operating picture, make informed decisions, arrive on-scene faster, and save lives.

The event brought industry and government officials together to determine how to best utilize these technologies when it matters most. On the heels of the tabletop exercise, the participants worked through the current process of obtaining emergency authorizations to support first responders. On the day of the event, every participant live streamed their aircraft(s)’s data back to the New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC). The ROIC, under the New Jersey State Police’s jurisdiction, serves as New Jersey’s primary point for information sharing and intelligence production needed to support law enforcement, counter terrorism and homeland security missions.

Major Dan Englehardt, Commanding Officer, New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC), stated, “We are pushing the mission forward together in this extremely important area that has, unfortunately, been slowed down in recent years but, in my opinion, is an untapped resource in disaster operations that can improve safety and security in New Jersey exponentially.”

On the day of the event, every participant live streamed their aircraft(s)’s data back to the New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC). The ROIC, under the New Jersey State Police’s jurisdiction, serves as New Jersey's primary point for information sharing and intelligence production needed to support law enforcement, counter terrorism and homeland security missions.

Every participant live streamed their aircraft(s)’s data back to the (simulated) New Jersey ROIC.

About National Aviation Research & Technology Park (NARTP)

The NARTP is catalyzing innovation with an ecosystem of partnerships and harnessing the power of collaboration, facilitating research and development, innovation, and commercialization of emerging aviation technologies. NARTP is located on a 58-acre parcel adjoining the Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center (WJHTC), an internationally recognized facility dedicated to research, development, and sustainment of the National Airspace System, and the Atlantic City International Airport (ACY), a designated Smart Airport Research Test Bed Facility. NARTP tenants are performing leading research in Unmanned Aerial Systems/Advanced Air Mobility (UAS/AAM) focusing on the safety implications of nascent UAS operational concepts, their testing and certification, as well as the emerging technologies needed to support the development of new regulatory standards. For more information about NARTP, visit https://www.nartp.com.

About the Smart Airport and Aviation Partnership (SAAP)

A public-private partnership comprised of industry, government and academia, the main functions of SAAP include an Aviation Business Accelerator, a small grants program, and assisting in development efforts to build the South Jersey Aviation Hub. Both Atlantic County and Cape May County are among its members. Through a grant from the USEDA, SAAP funded the aviation research at the heart of the June 23 Exercise. To learn more about SAAP, visit https://smartaviation.nianet.org.

Map representation of simultaneous UAS/sUAS operations across South Jersey during the event.

Map representation of simultaneous UAS/sUAS operations across South Jersey during the event.

Gary Mortimer
Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.