Grand Forks collaborates with UND, UAS sector to monitor flooding

From the Grand Forks Herald:

The city of Grand Forks began working this past weekend with several entities from the local sector for unmanned aerial systems to monitor flooding in areas that will either experience high water levels or in areas the city is less familiar with.

The effort between the city, UND Aerospace and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site had its first flight on Saturday, April 6, near the Shady Ridge neighborhood in south Grand Forks. The city is particularly interested in monitoring this community because of its position on the wet side of the levee and the fact the city didn’t annex it until 2014, after the city’s last major flood.

Over the next month or so, UAS Standards and Policy Manager Erin Roesler with the Northern Plains test site said operators will fly around city flood walls and several bridges crossing the Red River.

Just in the past two days, Roesler said operators have collected more than 500 aerial images of flooding for the city to use as it prepares closures and for the public to access through the city’s public information office.

In East Grand Forks, operator Ryan Walsh, who works for UND Aerospace and its foundation, said drones will also fly around the Mallory Bridge on state Highway 220.

Of the six trained operators with the Grand Forks effort, three are instructors, leading a class of about 20 to 25 students studying UAS who are also flying drones and helping the city.

“The UND aspect is really interesting,” Roesler said. “The students that are actually out flying, it’s through an academic class that they are enrolled in. … They have a real life client, and they have a real life problem that they’re actually helping solve,” Roesler said.

Bret Weber, a member of the Grand Forks City Council and a professor at UND, compared the city’s work with its public and private UAS sector to other drone-monitoring efforts across the Midwest.

“Our flood fight is actually a part of a larger effort to bring the UAS sector, UND and the city together using the city as kind of an open living laboratory for UND research and UAS development,” Weber said.

Roesler said she hopes the effort will influence policies from the Federal Aviation Administration and help form a foundation other cities and entities can use in future situations—not just for flooding, she said, but in other extreme events when a group might require a birds-eye view.

“It’s a real life example, not a scenario, not a research project, that we can show how federal laws and state local interests can be met simultaneously,” she said.