UAS training to aid in disasters

By Spc. Amie J. McMillan | 10th Press Camp Headquarters | May 03, 2010

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska. –When an earthquake or other natural disaster strikes, communication is vital. Without it, emergency responders often have no way of knowing the extent of the damage or even where to send help.

During Arctic Edge 10, a training exercise, employees from the Poker Flat Research Range at the University of Alaska Fairbanks responded to an earthquake scenario. They used an unmanned aircraft system, a class of aircraft that do not require a pilot to be onboard, to conduct damage assessment and aid in relief efforts.

The Poker Flat Research Range Manager, Greg Walker, flew the Scan Eagle around the staged areas in Anchorage to capture visual information for the sole training purpose of saving lives, preventing suffering and protecting crucial foundations by sending emergency responders where they are needed.

“We think we have something we can contribute to the security and safety of our state and to other states,” said Ro Bailey, special projects officer, Poker Flat Research Range, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

What if someone was in a disastrous situation, in a remote location and could not help themselves? Assistance would be difficult if no one knew they were there. With a UAS observing situations from the sky, emergency personnel would be dispatched to their location to provide them with the medical care required.

“Last year, we were successful in using the U.S. Air Force UAS to determine the exact fire line location of two separate wildfires when we were unable to fly manned aircraft for almost a week in very dense smoke, too dangerous for manned aircraft,” said John Softich, fixed wing specialist, Bureau of Land Management - Alaska.

The UAS gathers information on a geographic area in a process known as the incident awareness assessment. It periodically collects video, still photographs or infrared imagery to locate fires, or in disaster situations, individuals, in order to send emergency responders to a specific location.

“As the use of the unmanned aircraft expands in the national air space, everyone we know who are working with these same systems, think it’s critical to do this carefully, methodically, and with procedures to make sure we are operating safely and with no threat to the American population,” said Bailey.

“What I like best about UAS is that no matter how many you crash, putting them in situations where manned aircraft shouldn't be, you will never kill a firefighter or pilot in the process,” added Softich.

The use of a UAS in the United States is conducted in accordance with all federal laws and governmental policies regarding the capture of video and still photos inside the U.S.

Arctic Edge 10 is a major U.S. Northern Command exercise conducted in cooperation with the State of Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and other federal, state and local agencies. The major objective of the exercise is to give federal, state and local authorities the opportunity to operate together in a natural disaster scenario requiring an interagency response.