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The New Jersey Innovation Institute (NJII) Defense and Homeland Security Innovation Lab worked with Maser Consulting P.A. to conduct unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) video inspection of cell towers in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Wireless communications provide a vital link in organizing rescue and recovery efforts in Houston, not only in civil command and control operations but in the heroic efforts of neighbors and concerned citizens who rescued thousands of residents from flooded homes.

Maintaining telecommunication infrastructure during and after hurricane Harvey was essential to the communications of emergency personnel and the peace of mind of people within the affected area. This is where UAVs (drones) played a key role. Unmanned aerial system (UAS) crews performed initial site assessments to determine accessibility to cell towers so telecommunication companies could assign repair crews where the most impact could be made. They also performed advanced data acquisition to assess the condition of the cell tower site with up-to-date information to streamline repair activities. Once repairs have been made, the UAS crews can return to the site and assess the quality of the repairs to give telecommunication clients confidence that their equipment is operating at an optimum level.

In damaged areas, UAS crews are committed to safety and can perform video inspection to assess, for example, whether the cell site is safely accessible by repair crews; if flooding would prevent them from reaching the towers; and the condition of ground-level generators that power the towers that may be submerged in floodwaters. These high-level video inspections are used not only to identify tower condition, but also to determine the necessity for more detailed follow-up inspections that may be required.

NJII’s Assistant Vice President, Government Affairs, Defense and Homeland Security, Retired General Bill Marshall said, “We have teamed with Maser Consulting to have two crews onsite in Houston to conduct video inspections for several major telecommunications companies. We worked closely with Maser to secure the UAV pilots, create the inspection schedule, and are actively monitoring progress, which so far has been excellent.” 

Maser Consulting’s Chief Pilot and Director of UAV Services Rob Dannenberg said, “Our UAS flight teams are subject matter experts and are FAA Part 107 Certified. To ensure the comprehensive inspection of the towers, we utilize professional grade-UAS flight platforms combined with advanced sensors and data processing. This delivers timely, high-accuracy data to clients, enabling them to make better informed decisions rapidly.”

NJII has been a leading force in the application of UAS and UAV technology and actively involved in establishing Cape May County Airport as a demonstration hub for flying UAVs. UAVs are being developed to perform a full range of duties in many fields, including agriculture, in transportation as surveillance and accident assessment, emergency first-responder operations, and medical deliveries, along with their role in providing video inspection of communications infrastructure in flood-ravaged Houston.


Information provided by the New Jersey Innovation Institute (http://njii.com), a New Jersey Institute of Technology corporation.

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