NJIT Studies Drones for Homeland Security, Emergency Management

By Lauren Wanko

At the U.S. Coast Guard Training Station in Cape May, a drone takes off.

“This is going to sort of jump start a different kind of thinking in terms of emergency response,” said NJIT Crisis Communication Director Michael Chumer.

This drone — or unmanned aircraft system — is part of an NJIT research project to enhance the state and country’s homeland security and emergency management capabilities.

“What we’re learning here is how we can deploy video using the drone as a sensor. Just like you would have first responders as a sensor getting information from the ground into an Emergency Operation Center so that those individuals can be supported,” Chumer said.

“The key things about the unmanned aircrafts is that they allow you to fly in conditions that would be unsafe in a manned aircraft,” said American Aerospace founder and CEO David Yoel.

This drone has a camera on its tail the video is sent back in real time to the mobile operations center. In the belly of the aircraft is a cargo compartment which can hold up to three sensors. Right now there’s a mapping system inside.

“Basically it’s a camera system and what we’re doing is acquiring the images with this camera on the aircraft we’re transmitting those images to the mobile operations center where we’re producing maps. Where we’re putting those images on a map and then distributing them over the web for first responders,” Yoel said.

“Real time mapping because during a response to a catastrophic event, you want to see how the ground is changing very, very quickly,” Chumer said.

Throughout the study, drones will also be equipped with weather sensors to accelerate forecasts and a communications relay.

“It’s basically a radio that allows a radio from a first responder on the shore to connect through the aircraft to the radios inland,” Yoel said.

The NJIT research project leases the drones from American Aerospace. NJIT secured permission from the FAA to conduct flights over the Atlantic Ocean up to 14 miles off shore. The drone can remain in the air for 12 to 16 hours on one and a half gallons of gas. The aircraft has a pre-programed flight plan, but the pilot can manually adjust that flight plan at any time in the mobile operations center.

“This is the first of the state of New Jersey that is testing flying the drones within the national airspace,” Chumer said.

NJIT’s next set of flights are tentatively scheduled for March at the Cape May County Airport.