ASHEBORO N.C. – In a first of its kind program in the nation, the the N.C. Department of Transportation is putting tethered drones on Incident Management Assistance Patrol (IMAP) vehicles in order to assist first responders and get a birds eye view of an area.
The North Carolina Incident Management Assistance Patrol (IMAP) program and the Division of Aviation’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program recently helped develop and deploy the tethered drones system from select IMAP vehicles. The NC DOT says this is to “help responders assess incidents, provide situational awareness to the NCDOT Statewide Transportation Operations Center (STOC) and Traffic Management centers (TMCs) and assist with overall traffic management of the incidents.”
The drones can fly up to 150 feet to take video and livestream it to the Statewide Transportation Operations Center as well as to emergency management personnel at the incident. “This instant information can provide a safer environment for those on scene or approaching an incident and allow the centers to better manage traffic and share more accurate traveler information to the public” says the DOT in a press release.
Traffic operations staff view video feeds at the Statewide Transportation Operations Center through static traffic cameras as well as reports from responders in the field. The NC DOT says the tethered drones safely offer another method to provide more information in real time, with higher quality video, and for long periods of time.
Randolph County only has two static NC DOT traffic cameras, both in Trinity a few miles from the Guilford county line.
The drones and the program itself was realized as a result of a federal innovation grant received in 2020. “Along our interstates, where our IMAP patrols operate, there are gaps in camera coverage, so we don’t have perfect situational awareness,” said State Traffic Operations Engineer Dominic Ciaramitaro. “Our tethered drones will help us fill those gaps.”
The IMAP team has two tethered drone systems they will be testing as part of the pilot program. The UAS program and IMAP program team trained the first IMAP supervisor in January. IMAP says they used it within days of the training to survey a crash near the U.S. 13 and Interstate 95 interchange in Fayetteville. That drone was in the air for nearly five continuous hours.
[Information from NC DOT Press Release]