After the storm: Drone flights enable speedy cellular inspections

October 22, 2016  - By

Hurricane Matthew, which formed Sept. 28 and dissipated Oct. 10, brought torrential rains to the Carolinas, causing widespread flooding. The above is a screenshot from a drone inspection video.

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, Verizon used drones for cell-site inspections in North Carolina and South Carolina. The aerial survey shortened cell-site recovery to hours compared to potentially days, based on the severity of flooding.

The quadcopter used was operated by Measure UAS, which conducted the flights with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization.

Flights used a two-person crew that included a ground pilot for the UAS, and a visual observer of the operation for safe, legal and insured operations, Verizon said.

While Verizon was able to access most hurricane-affected sites quickly to assess damage, some sites were not accessible because of extreme flooding. That’s where the UAS came in.

Streaming in HD

The UAS was able to livestream and record high-definition video and high-resolution photographs of a cell site.

The first flight to a site surrounded by water near Elm City, North Carolina, and the Tar River Reservoir showed engineers that the base-station equipment — which was elevated on stilts — was not underwater and had not suffered visible damage.

After determining the site was safe to access, Verizon’s Network team secured an air boat and refueled the generator, bringing the site back into service within hours.

Verizon completed successful cell site inspection trials earlier this year in New Jersey providing valuable 3D imagery and system performance data via UAS.Now the company has several vendors to aid Verizon’s network maintenance and operations.
airborne service

In October, Verizon conducted the first trial with Verizon’s Airborne LTE Operations during an emergency management and disaster recovery exercise in Cape May, New Jersey.

The exercise simulated how Verizon’s network could provide 4G LTE coverage from a 17-foot wingspan UAS operated by American Aerospace Technologies (AATI) to first responders in an area impacted by a severe weather event where no wireless service is available.

While this is the first simulation in an emergency scenario, AATI and Verizon are conducting trials nationally testing connectivity between manned and unmanned aircraft and Verizon’s 4G LTE network, including in-flight connectivity.

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