Hurricane Ida aerial drone

Hurricane Ida: how police used drones after the natural disaster (and what drones they used)

Drones for good in the wake of natural disasters. It’s not pollyannish — it’s actually happening, and experts say that deploying drones after hurricanes, fires and tornados offers greater efficiencies and can do essential disaster relief and analysis work in less time and for less money. Just look to the Cranford Police Department, and how it deployed drones in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Cranford Police Department Adorama drone training Hurricane Ida
Photo courtesy of Adorama

Inside the Cranford, New Jersey Police Department’s drone program

Cranford, New Jersey, which is a relatively small township consisting of just roughly 25,000 people located 14 miles southwest of Manhattan, is somewhat of a newcomer to drones. Its police department, which consists of 53 sworn law enforcement officers and 8 civilian Communications Officers, only recently implemented a drone program.

And shortly after the Cranford Police Department’s drone program was deployed, Hurricane Ida struck at the end of August 2021. The East Coast was pummeled with severe storms, and massive flooding occurred in southern states including Louisiana before heading north and impacting New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Hurricane Ida damage aftermath
People walk in the middle of the route 18 highway on Sept. 2, 2021 in New Brunswick, NJ after flooding from Hurricane Ida. Photo/Getty Images

How New Jersey police used drones after Hurricane Ida

Hurricane Ida grew to become the second-most damaging and intense hurricane that made landfall in the U.S. state of Louisiana on record, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The storm left millions without power, and flash flooding swept the region, including New York City flooding that shutdown of much of the transportation system.

115 died as a result of the catastrophe, and damages resulting in costs of $65.25 billion, making it the sixth-costliest tropical cyclone on record.

And in the aftermath of the devastation, the police department turned to drones for a multitude of missions during and after Hurricane Ida, including the quick assessment of flood damage and identification of dangerous or unstable areas. Adorama Business Solutions, which helped Cranford police deploy their drones, said the drones allowed the department to navigate the disaster in real time and increase efficiency, adding that what has historically been a several-hour project of mapping and assessing the extent and scale of flooding took about 20 minutes with a drone.

Among the benefits of using drones:

Quicker delivery of data: Rescue teams could faster determine which rescue boats or high water vehicles were necessary for certain areas, resulting in faster allocation of resources and more timely rescues of victims.

Spotting a fire:  One of the drones used by Cranford police contains a dual thermal camera, which ended up spotting a debris fire, which police say would not have been visible from the ground level. That drone, the  Mavic 2 Advanced Dual, enabled police to alert the fire department to extinguish the fire.

Debris removal: The drones also helped in the planning of debris removal from impacted areas. Drones could gather video which was shared with the debris removal teams to allow for accurate assessment of manpower and equipment needs.

“The biggest problem with Hurricane Ida was with the flooding events,” said Cranford Police Department Captain Guy Patterson in a prepared statement. “A vast majority of our streets in our impacted areas weren’t passable. The amount of data we captured so quickly using the drones was crucial in managing multiple aspects of our response and initial recovery to Hurricane Ida and making sure our community was safe and accounted for.” 

Cranford Police Department Adorama drone training Hurricane Ida
Photo courtesy of Adorama

What drones were used by the Cranford Police Department

The drones used by the Cranford Police Department aren’t particularly out of reach for any everyday person to purchase — no uber-fancy specs or custom rigs required. In fact, one drone used by the Cranford Police Department can be purchased at Costco. The three drones used by the Cranford Police Department are:

DJI Mini 2: $449

This 249-gram drone is capable of recording 4K video. It also uses OcuSync 2.0 transmission which offers a more stable and reliable connection between the remote controller and the drone, enabling a maximum transmission range of 10 km which is a 150% increase in transmission range vs. the original Mavic Mini. Read my full review of the DJI Mini 2 here.

Purchase the DJI Mini 2 starting at just $449 now from:

DJI Mavic Enterprise Advanced: $6,500

This drone is highly versatile and enables plenty of room for upgrades. It utilizes both high-resolution thermal and visual cameras, and is also able to support up to 32× digital zoom, as well as provide centimeter-level positioning accuracy with the RTK module. Read my full review of the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced here.

Purchase the DJI Mavic Enterprise Advanced starting at $6,500 now from:

DJI Mavic Enterprise Dual: $2,400

The main differentiator with the new Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual is a set of side-by-side visual and thermal cameras, which allows you to measure temperatures and store images and/or temperature data. It’s not quite as advanced as, well, the Mavic Enterprise Advanced, but provides upgraded features from the Mavic 2 that would be relevant to industrial or time-sensitive use cases such as utility inspections to emergency response. Read my full review of the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual here.

Purchase the DJI Mavic Enterprise Dual starting at $2,400 now from:

And as a result, the Cranford Police Department says they intend to continue integrating drones into their natural disaster response work. The department says it now provides drone training on a regular basis to its staff.

“Through drones, we handled the damage assessments much more conveniently and efficiently,” Patterson said.

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