FalconUAV Supports Colorado Flooding Until Grounded By FEMA

Interesting news from our friends at Falcon UAV in Colorado:

In the wake of the recent floods in Colorado, Falcon UAV has spent the last three days providing volunteer aerial services to the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the Incident Management Team (IMT).  On Thursday afternoon while all National Guard aircraft were grounded due to weather Falcon UAV was proud to have been the only aircraft that was able to take flight to support the flood efforts in Lyons.

Friday saw a reprieve in the weather and we are able to get a perfect flight off in the town of Longmont to capture aerial imagery for damage assesment at the intersection of the overflowing St Vrain river and equally inundated Left Hand Creek.   In less than an hour the imagery was processed and provided to the Boulder EOC.  Just as Falcon UAV was off to another damage assessment in Lyons, Colorado we were requested to standdown for National Guard helicopters now supporting evacuation efforts.

Composite Image of Intersection of Flooded St Vrain and Left Hand Creek

Link to Flooded St Vrain and Left Hand Creek Interesection (Google ... 

Animated GIF from that Google Earth overlay shown below (click to see animation):

Enter FEMA.......

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 raveged community.  

Where bridge to the south side of Lyons used to be

Road into Lyons, CO

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.

Falcon UAV would like to thank the Boulder County EOC and specifically Allen Bishop and Michael Chard (while they were running operations) for their common sense approach to drone operations, working to coordinate the airspace, as well as embracing this technology to help support the recovery effort.  In contrast 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.   

To our fellow Colordoans, we understand the recovery efforts are still ongoing and will be followed by a long period of damage assessment.  If we can provide volunteer aerial video, photography, or mapping services to any of the affected communities please contact us directly at 303-903-4571.

Views: 8340

Comment by Philip on September 14, 2013 at 5:02pm
Great work guys :)
That is so typical of government agencies...

Comment by Mark Colwell on September 14, 2013 at 5:09pm

FEMA should offer you a reward. Not shut you down. 

Good for you !

Comment by Gary McCray on September 14, 2013 at 5:18pm

Ham fisted exercise of authority because they can.

Clearly human lives and emergency assistance are not Femas priority.

Defending their turf against misguided do-gooders is clearly much more important.

Emergency Management doesn't mean saving lives, obviously showing you who is the Boss is the central issue!

Comment by Randy on September 14, 2013 at 5:41pm

Love the 3d images you produce!

Comment by Josh Potter on September 14, 2013 at 6:08pm

Awesome work guys.  

How did FEMA ground you?  I would think only the FAA could do that.

Comment by Jason Short on September 14, 2013 at 6:08pm

I loaded that KMZ file in google earth. My goodness, what disaster agency wouldn't want that data? 

You can fly over high res details of the flood in seconds. Nice job.


Comment by Gary McCray on September 14, 2013 at 6:23pm

I believe FEMA actually has pretty much total legal authority in emergencies.

Not to say they always use it wisely.

Comment by Jani Hirvinen on September 15, 2013 at 12:46am

Someone didn't got paid and they got mad ;)  Here is a good example why we all work hard on ardupilol/arducopter. This is a great way to show potential of low cost UAVs. We don't need multimillion devices to do simple tasks in efficient and safe way. 

Congratulations to CM. and others @ Falcon UAV. Keep up the spirit, 

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on September 15, 2013 at 5:11am

Wow, I didn't realize how amazing what you were doing is until I downloaded that file.  Pretty cool that you can turn that file on/off in GE with the click of a button to get a quick before/after.  Are you able to share the workflow to generate that file?  I'm surprised at how well it overlays with GE imagery, as I've often found a pretty large offset between GE imagery and my GPS data.

Comment by Todd Hill on September 15, 2013 at 10:17am

 Excellent work!  This would make a good case study for demonstrating the effectiveness of such technology in post disaster assessements.  The only way we are going to get rid of this type of posturing by bureaucracies is making people more informed when situations such as this happen.  Share the link.

 I think that one could effectively argue that this is borderline gross negligence by FEMA.  They are in effect hampering the expediency of the recovery efforts, and wasting valuable recovery resources.   End of diatribe.   


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