In the aftermath of the devastating winter storm that overtook Texas and the surrounding region the week of February 14th, many people were left in dire situations and grasping for the most basic of needs. Despite being the energy capital of the US and boasting its own power grid, millions of Texans were left without electricity and other essential services while enduring record snowfall and some of the coldest temperatures on record. Even as power was restored, millions more were also left with water taps that had run dry, frozen pipes that had burst, and water treatment plants that had failed, requiring people to boil water before using it.
Public Safety Agencies’ Proactive Response
In response, the City of Austin/Travis County opened 10 drive-through water distribution sites across the city to help provide residents with potable water. Among the thousands of service calls first responders responded to during and after the storm, the Austin Fire Department Robotics Emergency Deployment (RED) team took an innovative approach to do “more with less” by utilizing drones to provide live drone video feeds of the distribution progress for incident management to monitor at remote emergency command center(s).
Addressing Site Logistics from Above
By using the DroneSense platform, the RED team was able to launch drones and provide aerial perspectives, enabling incident command to monitor and assess the multi-site operations in real-time. The drones provided live video feeds of important logistics including waiting line lengths, where resources were required at any given moment, the status of water supplies, and the safety of people in traffic lines (which stretched for miles in some cases). Various drones were cycled through and kept in the air constantly. Drone teams working in different public safety agencies (Fire, Police, EMS) were also able to collaborate easily on joint missions using the platform.
Drones are Ideally Suited for Mass Distribution Events
The enhanced level of situational awareness that drones provided was a key component to the success of the distribution effort and could be an important step into the future of mass distributions efforts. But could we see such forward-thinking initiatives taken by the RED team similarly extend to other use cases where masses of people gather — like in polling locations and vaccine distribution? We anticipate similar logistical challenges arising around the country once the supply of COVID-19 vaccines begins to catch up with demand (only 6.2% of the population has been vaccinated as of this writing).
Once again, drones are proving to be an invaluable asset to public safety organizations around the country. Far beyond the standard use cases for drones and much like the technology itself, drone deployments continue to evolve through the ceaseless efforts of the talented women and men who are tasked with keeping us safe and providing aid during moments of crisis.