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American Red Cross Will Test a Drone to Assess Damage From Hurricane Harvey

The trial, in partnership with UPS Foundation and CyPhy Works, is a first for the Red Cross and could serve as a future model for a rapid-assessment unit.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — American Red Cross is partnering with UPS Foundation and drone manufacturer CyPhy Works in a first of its kind effort to test a tethered drone to assess damage after a major natural disaster in the United States.

Given the magnitude of recovery efforts taking place in Texas and Louisiana following the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, the parties agreed there was no better time to begin the pilot, according to a joint announcement. The three partnering organizations will deploy the drone and conduct a one-week, on-site test in an area badly affected by the flooding. The pilot could serve as a future model for a rapid response team, says Eduardo Martinez, president of The UPS Foundation.

“With such catastrophic injury and damage being caused by natural disasters, every minute counts. It’s essential that public and private organizations work together to find new and innovative solutions to support and enhance recovery efforts after a natural disaster strikes,” he says. “Accurately and quickly assessing the impact is a critical step to help save lives and lay the groundwork for eventual recovery and rebuilding.”

The pilot program will utilize CyPhy Works’ Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) platform. The platform will provide constant power to a drone flying stationary at 400 feet through the use of a tether. Since the drone is tied to the ground, constant power can be provided from a ground-based generator, thus providing uninterrupted surveillance for days or weeks at a time.

A 30x zoom camera will then be used to surveil tens of miles around the drone and would be able to assess the impact of a disaster to best direct relief efforts and later to accelerate insurance payout.

The parties involved agreed to launch the trial in an area heavily flooded by Hurricane Harvey. If successful, it could be used again following Hurricane Irma.

The Boston-based CyPhy Works has been testing its tethered platform in different scenarios. During this year’s Fourth of July fireworks and the Boston Marathon, the company worked to provide hours of aerial surveillance to the Boston Police Department.

The test with the Red Cross could potentially expand the deployment of the PARC platform to locations without a power grid or general utilities.

“The measure of success for the American Red Cross on this pilot will be to prove that drones can help support, complement and accelerate the work already being done by our tremendous volunteers,” says Brad Kieserman, vice president, Disaster Services & Logistics, American Red Cross. “In collaboration with UPS and CyPhy Works, we are thrilled to be conducting a pilot program with a drone for the first time in the United States. This will help us make faster assessments of affected communities that critically need our assistance.”

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