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Florida State Students Pilot Drones For Emergency Management At Camp Blanding

Ryan Benk
FSU professfor Robert McDaniel shows off live drone footage at Camp Blanding in Starke, Florida.

Florida emergency officials are in the midst of planning for the upcoming hurricane season — and they’re getting some help from an unexpected source.

A group of college students are learning how to use drones to aid in disaster recovery efforts.

Florida State University professor of Emergency Management Robert McDaniel showed footage of his students piloting drones Tuesday to a packed room of emergency managers at Camp Blanding in Starke.

Drones can be used to help scour hard-to-reach disaster areas for survivors, he said. Case-in-point: Just yesterday, while enroute to Camp Blanding for a hurricane exercise, McDaniel and students used drones to help rescuers track down a missing person.

"We were able to help exclude the areas that the dogs weren't going to have to hunt — about a square mile in one afternoon," he said.

McDaniel said a group of drones can survey territory, map locations and help locate victims much faster than a group of humans on the ground. But he says after a disaster, it’s better to leave those efforts up to professionals like the ones he’s training right now. 

And McDaniel said it’s this real world experience that makes his class important.

“That really helps with regards to improving the community; we get better emergency managers," he said. "They don't walk in with that ‘I’m a new-hire stare.’ They understand and even know some of the people they’re going to be working with,” he said.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.