As North Carolina prepares for the start of another hurricane season, emergency management officials are taking steps to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, to help them respond to and recover from disasters.

A partnership between the North Carolina Geodetic Survey, North Carolina Emergency Management, and the Geomatics program in the College of Science and Technology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University is strengthening those capabilities by training more remote pilots and visual observers, collecting and processing aerial imagery of the state and supporting drone research. The work takes place on the N.C. A&T University Farm, a 492-acre site in Greensboro, where drones fly, pilots and observers learn and researchers look for ways to improve drone technology.

Hurricane Matthew’s impact shone a spotlight last October on the deep need for this technology. Wind, heavy rains and flooding from the storm caused 28 deaths, closed hundreds of roads including sections of I-95, and prompted power outages for more than 800,000 customers. The Lumber, Neuse and Tar rivers crested at record levels, and flooding made roads inaccessible in numerous eastern North Carolina counties.