Island University to Provide Nueces County UAS Disaster Response Thanks to New Agreement

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – When a natural disaster strikes, the Nueces County Emergency Operations Center only has a finite number of resources they can use to aid response efforts. To alleviate this issue, as well as improve disaster response and recovery efforts, the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation (LSUASC) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi recently signed an interlocal agreement with Nueces County to provide drone support in the event of future natural disasters. Loyd Neal, county judge and emergency management director for Nueces County, signed the agreement on Oct. 31.

“Whether it’s another Hurricane Harvey or flooding because of rains in the watershed, with this agreement we will be able to help everyone get back on their feet and provide assistance when an emergency or disaster pops up,” said Tye Payne, operations chief for LSUASC. “This is a really big win, not just for the county and TAMU-CC but for all the people who live here.”

Thanks to the agreement, Judge Neal can now call on LSUASC to provide Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) support anytime an emergency is declared. For example, over the last several weeks Nueces County and San Patricio County have experienced moderate flooding, and public safety officials are being deployed to the areas that are hit the hardest. But when roads become too treacherous to traverse, LSUASC support can be requested to send drones to asses a safer route for responders. In addition to providing emergency response, the agreement will allow LSUASC to gather video data to evaluate and categorize the severity of damage to buildings and property – even before floodwaters recede.

The agreement, which is for one year and will automatically be renewed annually for up to five years, will also allow LSUASC to request a temporary flight restriction from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This restriction will ensure that LSUASC drones are the only aircraft flying in Nueces County airspace during times of emergency.

Since becoming one of seven FAA recognized UAS test sites in the nation in 2014, LSUASC has quickly become the definitive source for emergency support to surrounding communities. In 2015, a research team was sent to Wimberly, Texas, on a search and rescue mission after more than 400 hundred homes were destroyed by heavy flooding. After Harvey, LSUASC flew drones over Aransas Bay and Copano Bay to assess the damage done to oil structures and sunken vessels. LSUASC also conducted imaging and survey missions across the City of Rockport and in several cities across South Texas in the year following.

 “This agreement is a great example of the University making a positive impact on the community by providing our unique services and expertise,” said Mike Sanders, acting executive director for LSUASC. “I know this is the kind of partnership President Quintanilla encourages us to form. It’s a partnership that will have a real and lasting impact well beyond the University and the city.”