Hernando drone team performs rescues and assesses hurricane damage in DeSoto County

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FL-UAS 4 a joint drone team comprised of personnel from the Hernando County Fire and Emergency Services (HCFES) and Hernando Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) assisted DeSoto County authorities in searching for victims , assessing road, bridge and flood damage and creating disaster area maps in the days following Hurricane Ian. Known as FL-UAS 4, the deployment was the regional joint drone team’s first mission since its establishment and recognition by the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) in May.

During its six-day deployment, the team worked throughout DeSoto County to provide aerial views of flooding after storm surge lifted the Peace River and other tributaries from Charlotte Harbor , making ground access impossible for DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) disaster response vehicles, DeSoto County. Fire Rescue (DCFR), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), and local road and bridge engineers.

In a Facebook post, HCFES said FL-UAS 4 gathered video and still images and 2D mosaic maps of locations throughout the county to help emergency management teams decide where to deploy resources, including including distribution points where people stranded by floodwaters could get food and water. Additionally, the drone team responded to reports of people being trapped on their rooftops to escape flooding.

FL-UAS 4 also obtained video and still images of bridges that helped FDOT and local Department of Public Works (DPW) engineers assess their structural integrity and determine if these bridges were safe to use after the withdrawal of flood waters.

Finally, in Arcadia, FL-UAS 4 assisted the Florida Hazmat Coordination team in responding to reports of tank car leaks on the railroad along the Peace River. As a result, within two hours of receiving the request, the photos and video of the cars were returned to Orlando for review by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The drone team’s ability to provide near real-time imagery, video and maps has proven invaluable to the local emergency management team, FDEM said.

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