GALLERY: North Dakota Drones, Emergency Responders Team Up For Tornado Simulation

MAYVILLE, N.D. — Drones took to the air searching for  survivors and damaged structures amid the aftermath of a simulated tornado, part of ongoing research into how the technology could help communities recover faster from storms.

The research centers around the town of Mayville, a farming community of 1,850 people located about 45 miles southwest of the state’s proclaimed drone activity hub. There, Xcel Energy and numerous partners — including Elbit Systems of America, the University of North Dakota and General Electric — have staged damage and employed drones to detect and assess it.

The group started work last year after receiving a state grant, but the May 26 exercise marks a milestone for project. The drones broadcasted live video feeds to emergency crews showing the location of damaged power lines and people injured by the simulated storm.

Drones swept the area in two phases. The large Hermes 450 drone piloted by the Northern Plains UAS Test Site took the lead and surveyed the town for damage from a high altitude.  Smaller drones flown by SkySkopes were dispatched to areas with damaged utility infrastructure or survivors in need of help.

A second emergency response exercise will take place May 31 during the Drone Focus conference in Fargo, N.D., with a live feed broadcast for conference audience members.

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