Kansas Department of Transportation – UAS Emergency Response Exercise: Drones to the Rescue!

Rural Kansas is prone to high winds, tornadoes, and flooding that can make emergency response efforts a challenge. The Kansas Department of Transportation, along with 20 first responders from law enforcement, fire, and emergency management, conducted the first-ever live Unmanned Aircraft System (known commonly as a UAS or “drone”) disaster response exercise in the state. This exercise helps the department save lives by delivering aid faster in rural emergencies. Using the city of Rossville as the site to simulate a disaster, this $150,000 project allowed the Kansas DOT and other emergency response leaders to observe new tactics and technologies – providing live pictures of every aircraft and response vehicle involved in the operation. Drones helped identify suitable landing zones for emergency helicopters and communicated coordinates while in route. The exercise used live vehicle tracking, which re-directed fire engines and ambulances around simulated down power lines and were able to communicate alternate routes via FirstNet (a communications network for public safety response). Kansas DOT bridge crews dispatched drones to assess bridges in flood zones, while city officials used them to evaluate the potential for flooding at the simulated water treatment plant. Kansas DOT plans to continue these exercises as the technology continues to improve – putting the safety of rural communities at the forefront.