Reliabile, versatile Aeryon SkyRanger gives disaster response team vital imagery and access during Colombian landslide

GlobalMedic is a Canadian charity dedicated to providing short-term, rapid response during disasters. Their RescUAV program expertly applies UAV technology to provide vital imaging and real-time assessment services to emergency responders during search and rescue and aid missions.

In a disaster area, responders face numerous challenges: spotty or inaccessible utility services, obstruction from debris, hazards from unstable structures, and the ongoing threat of severe weather. During a recent landslide in the Putumaya region of Colombia, the Aeryon SkyRanger and HDZoom30 imaging payload, combined with AeryonLive™ and Pix4Dmapper, allowed responders to map and identify dangers, perform search and rescue missions, and assess structural damage quickly and in hard-to-reach areas.

INDUSTRY: Humanitarian Aid Mission | REGION: Mocoa, Colombia

APPLICATION

In April 2017, days of torrential rains in southwestern Colombia led to severe flooding, causing a landslide to come crashing down on the sleeping city of Mocoa. A large number of the city’s roads, bridges, and homes were destroyed. Water, gas and telecommunications services were disrupted and the local power distribution centre was destroyed, adding to the distress.

Rescue teams quickly ran into obstacles. Foot patrols were blocked by debris and had to proceed slowly due to structural damage to buildings. Continuous rain led to additional landslides and caused the surrounding rivers to rise to dangerous levels, blocking off access points. And the deep river valleys, mountainous regions, and thick jungle made it hard to identify landslide risk areas.

Small fixed-wing aircraft and other UAVs didn’t have the range, maneuverability, weather resistance, or zoom capabilities to assist the responders. A local organization had access to several fixed-wing mapping drones, but they produced only low-resolution images. Helicopters had a longer range, but were prioritized for aid and couldn’t offer close-up images.

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“We were often tasked with flying where no other UAV operators could, due to the difficulty of the terrain and challenging weather,” commented Brett Simms, team lead for the RescUAV Colombia deployment. “Only the SkyRanger had the agility, durability, and range to allow us to produce the high-res maps, 3D models, and video of that region, at amazing resolutions.”

KEY BENEFITS

  • Even in heavy rain of up to 40mm (1.6 inches) a day, fog, 32°C (90°F) temperatures, and 75% humidity, SkyRanger delivered clear images and video of the area, allowing the team to continue working in all conditions
  • The team produced detailed maps of 2,020,000 m2 of the area, assisting damage assessments and helping engineers identify areas at risk for future landslides
  • Live-streamed, high-definition footage of nearly 100,000 m2 of the area allowed critical information to be viewed in real time
  • With SkyRanger’s long range and zoom capabilities, the team identified major obstructions in roadways and rivers, enabling responders to travel efficiently in the area

SOLUTION

Aeryon Labs joined GlobalMedic’s RescUAV Rapid Response team of UAV pilots, trained disaster responders, and engineers to support the efforts. The combined team brought four SkyRanger systems to provide high-resolution imaging and video, the AeryonLive solution to provide real-time streaming, and Pix4Dmapper software to create detailed maps of affected areas.

On arrival, the team met with the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD) to get their assignment: take high-resolution images and videos to assess structural damage in the worst-affected areas. With increased helicopter traffic from government and local authorities, airtime was restricted to a three-hour block early in the morning and a two-hour block in the afternoon. Despite airspace limitations, the quick deployment capabilities and weather resistence of the SkyRanger allowed the team to complete the imaging in the short flight windows and deliver needed maps.

As the team developed relationships with agencies in the area, such as the Corporation for Sustainable Development of the Southern Amazon (Corpoamazonia) and the Prevention and Emergency Management police unit (PMU), their expertise was requested for other investigative and risk-reduction assignments. They imaged and mapped several areas outside the slide zone to look for structural issues in buildings and for evidence of weakened ground – a possible future landslide risk.

They also assisted with a missing person search over two kilometers of river inaccessible by foot. They provided video imaging during the demolition and clearing of several large boulders. In each situation, the SkyRanger’s ability to provide clear, high-resolution images and video gave responders exactly the information they needed. And, with AeryonLive, the team could stream video for immediate decision making.

RESULTS

The ease-of-use and ruggedness of the SkyRanger meant that the team could provide images and maps of previously inaccessible areas. Having insight into these areas without risking the safety of personnel greatly increased the ability of the emergency management authorities and aid agencies to anticipate and respond to issues. And, with a resolution of 2 cm/pixel, the SkyRanger images could also replace existing maps that had a resolution of only 1m/pixel. With detailed maps, agencies could create comprehensive damage assessments and prioritize demolition and reconstruction projects.