As the atmospheric rivers dissipate and the sun once again peeks through the clouds, our state begins the arduous process of assessing the damage resulting from weeks of relentless rain and snow. Many landowners, land managers, and agency staff from the local to the federal level will be busy in the coming weeks and months as they work to repair infrastructure such as roads, bridges, powerlines, and levees. Many properties and project sites may remain inaccessible for long periods of time due to roads made impassable by mudslides, landslides, erosion, and debris flows. For those responsible for rebuilding and recovering from these storms, acquisition of timely and high-quality information about site conditions is essential.
Drones (UAS; unmanned aerial systems) are a particularly useful tool that can be deployed quickly, and from a safe distance, to collect photo, video, or aerial imagery to document damage in a cost-effective manner. Photo and video images from the air often provide a better view and a more complete picture of the damage sustained at a site when compared to traditional photos taken on the ground. ECORP’s drone fleet is capable of mapping up to 1,500 acres per day to produce high-resolution orthomosaic imagery that is compatible with Computer-aided Design (CAD) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping. The orthomosaic imagery can be used in many ways, from mapping mudslide and erosion, to determining the status of a site following the storms, to monitoring and reporting on the success of remediation activities. Video and photo imagery collected from drone flights can be an essential part of the tool kit of anyone responsible for managing lands and infrastructure. This approach to data collection is a repeatable and effective tool for tracking progress and documenting changes over time.