20 September 2013, 16:45

FEMA grounds drones used to map Colorado floods, threatens operators with arrest

США Америка Колорадо наводнение дождь

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is supposed to oversee relief operations following the massive floods in Colorado, has recently ordered to ground special FAA-approved drones which had been employed to draft precise maps of the flooded areas to increase the security operation efficiency.

The drones were produced by the local company, Falcon UAV, to generate highly accurate maps using cameras and GPS. Falcon UAV manufactures drones for government use and they are FAA approved.

The help provided by these devices was very tangible, as the drones created near real-time maps showing the floods. The more bizarre and inexplicable appears the grounding ordered by FEMA. Moreover, the organization threatened Falcon to arrest its operators if the effort was not put to an end.

The ban seems all the more unfathomable, since the drones were actually designed for similar purposes and were very helpful. As Falcon says, the grounding made very little sense to them, as it had very likely hampered the whole rescue operation.

Falcon UAV tells the story on their blog:

“Early Saturday morning Falcon UAV was heading up to Lyons to complete a damage assessment mapping flight when we received a call from our Boulder EOC point of contact who notified us that FEMA had taken over operations and our request to fly drones was not only denied but more specifically we were told by FEMA that anyone flying drones would be arrested. Not being one to bow to federal bureaucrats we still went up to Lyons to do a site survey for how we can conduct a mission in the near future to provide an adequate damage assessment to this storm ravaged community.

While we were up there we noticed that Civil Air Patrol and private aircraft were authorized to fly over the small town tucked into the base of Rockies. Unfortunately due to the high terrain around Lyons and large turn radius of manned aircraft they were flying well out of a useful visual range and didn't employ cameras or live video feed to support the recovery effort. Meanwhile we were grounded on the Lyons high school football field with two Falcons that could have mapped the entire town in less than 30 minutes with another few hours to process the data providing a near real time map of the entire town.

[...] We are very disappointed in FEMAs response to actively prevent the use of UAVs and drone technology when these services were offered for free and at a time when manned helicopters could be used for more critical missions such as evacuations and high mountain search and rescues in inaccessible communities.”

It turns out, the government is more willing to use UAVs for military, police, and security purposes, rather than put them to good use as part of relief effort. It seems like there had been so many force-related reasons to use these drones, when used for peaceful purposes, they began to look even scarier and provoked a panicked response that new technologies are scary and could only harm.

As far as FEMA is concerned there’s been no response from the organization concerning the drone grounding. Though there might be some important secret reasons which hindered the drones from performing their rescue operations, it is still highly likely that the only secret reason was the bureaucratic swamp the whole case had fallen into, which is obviously little comfort to people who had been left without so-needed help.

Voice of Russia, Infowars, ieee.org

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