When 13 cars of a 39-car freight train derailed just outside Louisville Kentucky in late October 2012, the onsite emergency crews needed some innovative solutions to assess the damage and provide the aerial imagery needed for a fast and safe clean-up of the site. In addition to the location of the derailment creating challenges for accessing the site, nine of the derailed cars contained hazardous material, which meant extra safety measures to ensure that the investigation, documentation and clean-up went smoothly. Th e challenges included:
- The derailment took place on an elevated section of rail track with a highway on one side and a slope down to the Ohio River on the other. As a result, access to the derailed cars was limited to one side of the accident site.
- Two of the derailed cars leaked butadiene and styrene, and the accident was classified as a Level 3 HAZMAT situation.
- A fl ash fi re burned for more than 24 hours and injured three workers.
- Other cars containing hydrogen fluoride were hosed down to keep cool when the fire could not be extinguished.
- There were concerns that contaminated water could wash into the neighbouring Salt and Ohio rivers requiring a dam to be quickly erected.
- Hundreds of people were evacuated to ensure their safety from the toxic chemicals.
The onsite teams needed an unmanned aerial system (UAS) to provide real-time aerial photography, video and weather data in order to assess the damage; locate the cars containing the hazardous materials; and provide local, state and federal emergency response agencies with data for containment and clean-up plans. Th ey also needed a tool for the agencies to collaborate with each other using the same information. And all this without putting human lives at risk.
A day after the derailment, Drone Systems pressed into service the Aeryon Scout. Th e Scout was lauched a safe distance (1.2 km) from the site, and it fl ew directly over the site at various altitudes (under 122 m) to provide high-resolution still photos and videos. Th e footage was streamed in real-time to the command post as well as planning section offi cers. Over the course of four days, Scout fl ew a variety of fl ight paths to meet the requirements of various emergency and government agencies onsite; providing each with data required to plan and complete their tasks, as well as feedback for evidence reporting afterwards.
The video, photographs, and weather data provided by the Scout became critical to ensuring the safety of workers and residents, the accuracy of the documentation and the fast clean-up of the site. The Scout’s ‘hover and stare’ capabilities provided sustained and accurate observations of specifi c locations. Th e system was also able to fly at low altitudes and record the bar code information on the derailed cars. This enabled the response teams to know which cars contained the hazardous materials and plan containment and removal accordingly.