Aeryon Scout streams high-resolution images to help assess train derailment site

Aeryon Scout streams high-resolution images to help assess train derailment site

Drone Systems flies Aeryon Scout to help survey and assess rail track blocked by freight cars containing hazardous materials.

Drone Systems provides military-grade, unmanned vehicles, communications equipment and threat detection systems to US public safety agencies and first responders.

INDUSTRY: Public Safety | REGION: United States


When 13 cars of a 39-car freight train derailed just outside Louisville Kentucky, in late October 2012, Joel Embry, president of  Drone Systems knew that he could help the onsite emergency crews assess the damage and provide the aerial imagery needed for a fast and safe clean up of the site. In addition to the location of the derailment creating challenges for accessing the site, nine of the derailed cars contained hazardous materials which meant that extra resources and safety measures were needed to ensure that the investigation, documentation and clean up went smoothly. These challenges included:

  • The derailment took place on an elevated section of rail track with a highway on one side and a slope down to the Ohio River on the other. As a result, access to the derailed carswas limited to one side of the accident site.
  •  Two of the derailed cars leaked butadiene and styrene. As a result the accident was classified as a Level 3 HAZMAT situation.
  • A flash fire burned for more than 24 hours and injured three workers as they tried to separate the rail cars.
  • Other cars containing hydrogen fluoride were hosed down to keep cool when the fire could not be extinguished.
  • Concern that contaminated water could wash into the neighbouring Salt and Ohio rivers requiring a dam to be quickly erected.
  • Hundreds of people were evacuated to ensure their safety from the toxic chemicals.
  • Highway closures caused delays and frustration for motorists in the area.


The onsite teams needed an unmanned aerial system that could provide data that had been previously collected by a teams walking the site and/or flying in a helicopter. The system would need to provide:

  • Real-time aerial photography, video and weather datain order to:
    • Assess the damage
    • Locate the cars containing the hazardous materials
    • Provide local, state and federal emergency response agencies with the data they needed to create the containment and clean-up plans according to their specific role at the site.
  • A tool for agencies to collaborate with each other using the same information
  • A method for collecting data without putting human lives at risk


The day after the derailment, Joel Embry was onsite with the Aeryon Scout™. Within minutes of arriving he lauched the Scout a safe distance(0.75 mile/1.2 km) from the accident site. The system flew directly over the site of the derailment at various altitudes (under 400 ft/122 m) to provide high resolution still photography and video to the teams on the ground. Over several days, the Scout was flown in repeatable flight paths, but also at different angles to assist incident command and emergency crews on scene.The aerial footage was streamed (real-time) to the command post, as well high-resolution photographs to planning section officers.

“The various agencies took the photography we provided and used them in real-time for situational briefings, decisions on progressand planning next steps”, states Embry. “The ability to have the Aeryon Scout over the derailment site within minutes, coupled with the exceptional quality of the imagery and the absence of risk to any personnel, was the perfect solution to assess the situation in real-time. And, by using a Scout sUAS, it’s a fraction of the cost of deploying a helicopter for this type of aerial observation and data gathering.”


The video, photographs, and weather data provided by the Scout became critical to ensuring the safety of workers and residents, the accuracy of the documentationand the fast and efficient clean up of the derailed train cars. The ability for local, stateand federal agenices to immediately access the Scout’s imagery from the command post provided unprecedented perspective to commanders during the planning and execution of incident operations.

The Scout’s ‘hover and stare’ capabilities provided sustained and accurate observations of specific locations. As well, the system was able to fly at low altitudes and record the bar code information on the derailed cars. This enabled the response teams to know which cars contained the hazardous materials and plan the containment and removal accordingly.

Over the course of four days, Scout flew a variety of flight paths to meet the unique requirements of the numerous emergency and government agencies onsite; providing each agency with the images and data required to plan and complete their tasks onsite, as well as the required evidence for documenting and reporting their analysis afterwards.

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(Photos courtesy of Drone Systems)


  • Automated and repeatable grid waypoint flight paths
  • High resolution image capture
  • Real-time streaming to command center
  • High wind tolerance
  • Ease of use
  • Reliability