Cape May County to test how drones can aid post-disaster communications

    Cape May County emergency management officials will be testing a potential solution for providing first responders with critical cellular service after a disaster strikes.

    The county is working with Verizon and American Aerospace Technologies to fly a long endurance unmanned aircraft, known colloquially as a drone, equipped with a small cellular transmitter, according to a news release.

    The hope, officials say, is that the technology can be quickly deployed to areas where cellular transmitters no longer function post-disaster. 

    Related: How N.J. is trying to land more drones start-ups

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    County, state, and federal officials will participate in the week-long flight campaign that will occur at the Cape May County Airport in mid-May. They’ll meet next week to establish a command structure, prioritize tasks, and set data standards for the tests.

    The county received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct the campaign. Officials say they worked “arduously for over eight months” to receive federal permission for the tests that must be conducted in conformance with airspace regulations. 

    And it’s not the first time the use of drones in the aftermath of a disaster was tested in the county.

    Officials say the upcoming flight campaign will build on successful drone exercises held last year at the county airport, including using the aerial devices for similar communication provisions and surveying critical infrastructure. 

    Also last year, Flirtey, a drone delivery service, conducted test flights to help determine whether drones can be used to carry human medical samples to and from areas during major natural disasters. The drones flew between an onshore medical relief camp and a test facility on a vessel stationed on the Delaware Bay.

    “The use of this disruptive technology in supporting humanitarian and emergency operations is a major paradigm shift and significantly enhances the ability to support field medical operators and first responders in remote or otherwise inaccessible disaster sites,” William Marshall, assistant vice president for government and military relations for NJIT, said during the Flirtey test. “The data captured here will be shared with all of the participants, including the FAA, in support of the agency’s ongoing research into the integration of UAS into the national air space.”

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