WOODBINE, NJ -- The Cape May County Office of Emergency Management, joined with Verizon and American Aerospace Technologies, Inc. (AATI), for a drone exercise was conducted, to demonstrate the importance of drone technology during emergencies. The flights were performed under the County’s “public use COA,” permission from the FAA to fly under specific conditions where the mission is in the public’s interest. First responders tested new communications technologies from drones during the emergency management exercises. The test exercise was designed to shorten response time and save lives in the event a disaster or severe weather event, such as a hurricane with winds capable of knocking out power and communication services.
David Yoel, of American Aerospace Technologies, made a presentation to the Board of Chosen Freeholders and explained the drone exercise conducted in Woodbine as well as an update on the progress of drone testing and development being done at the Cape May County airport.
AATI’s aircraft, equipped with Verizon’s Airborne LTE, was flown from the Woodbine Airport over Belleplain State Forest, a simulated no-service cell zone. First responders were located at Belleplain to confirm when the drone flew overhead, they were able to use their phones, radios, and other equipment, that could not operate without a wireless signal. Emergency Management personnel on-site were able to communicate with and send photos to both the County’s Emergency Management Office and the State Police Command Center.
U.S. Congressman Frank LoBiondo, Freeholder Director Gerald M. Thornton and Freeholder Will Morey, who oversees the County’s drone program, welcomed participants to the week’s testing. Marty Pagliughi, Cape May County OEM Director, directed all activities as the Incident Commander. First responders participating in the emergency preparedness exercises included representatives from the Cape May County Office of Emergency Management, the N.J. State Police and U.S. Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay.
Freeholder Will Morey explained, “The success of the experiment confirms that drones can be used in an emergency situation when power has been knocked out and cell service unavailable. Communication is key in these situations and imperative in keeping equipment such as, radios and cell phones operational to enable communications with Emergency Management Command Centers.”
This exercise outfitted first responders with smartphones to connect to a “flying cell site” in a simulated coverage-denied environment at Belleplain State Forest, using Verizon’s Airborne LTE and AATI’s aircraft. This allowed a “pocket of coverage” to allow first responders call, text and transfer images back to OEM centers to coordinate response.
“This technology will be extremely important during severe weather incidents and will ensure communication between the impacted municipalities and the OEM command center. The ability to restore temporary cell service as well as send images of affected areas, this technology will be invaluable for all First Responders in the performance of their job,” said OEM Director Martin Pagliughi.
A second exercise used Verizon’s Airborne enterprise service and AATI’s mapping and imaging technology to survey potential storm damage to critical infrastructure, such as roads, coastline and hospitals to map a safe evacuation routes to emergency shelters.
Freeholder Director Thornton, liaison to OEM, reported, “I have spent many hours at the office of Emergency Management during weather emergencies, often we find ourselves without any communication with our municipalities and have no idea how they are being impacted by flooding, high winds or snow. This technology will improve our ability to respond during disasters, provide assistance and ensure the safety of our citizens.”
Photo Caption 1- Drone Exercise: Frank Sipple – OEM; Robert Nolan, Undersheriff; Martin Pagliughi, OEM Director
Photo Caption 2 - Drone: Drone used in Woodbine exercise
Photo Caption 3 – Elected Officials: Martin Pagliughi, OEM Director; Freeholder Will Morey; David Yoel; Congressman Frank Lobiondo; Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton; Woodbine Mayor William Pikolycky; Ronald Leach NJ State Police; Christopher Desmond, Principal Engineer, Verizon Networks