Florida State to launch UAS training program

By Emily Aasand | December 10, 2014

In the spring of 2015, Florida State University will begin offering courses in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the university’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security program. The class, Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems, is the first course in EMHS’s new program in Application of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

“Our discussion with state and local emergency managers show intense interest in what drones can do for the field of emergency management, particularly emergency response, recovery and mitigation,” said David Merrick, deputy director of the EMHS program in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. “These versatile systems can capture still and video imagery of disaster impacts and provide critical, near-real-time assessments for a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft.”

The program will be the first academic track of its kind at a major Florida public university, preparing students in a variety of public and private applications, such as monitoring wildfire lines, identifying hot spots in burning building, monitoring and forecasting agricultural conditions, and locating and communicating with people stranded in disaster situations, the university said.

EMHS has used UAS in two disaster risk-reduction projects in Haiti and is working with the Florida Division of Emergency Management to explore integrating the technology in disaster decision-making.

Three faculty members in the program have been certified as operators by the manufacturers of specific aircraft: Merrick; Jarrett Broder, EMHS director of information technology and research fellow; and Robert McDaniel, Center for Disaster Risk Policy faculty researcher and senior fellow and EMHS instructor and internship coordinator.

Higher education is still categorized as commercial, restricting flying options, but new U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rules could open use by universities to the broader research guidelines. Florida State is currently exploring the use of large local buildings in which to operate the craft indoors and relatively unrestricted, the university said.

“There’s much in the way of understanding the technology and its applications, not to mention the policy issues involved with the use of UAS that students need to learn before they get their craft up in the air,” said Merrick. “By the end of this program, these students will have unique experience in every aspect of UAS deployment, remote sensing applications and putting UAS imagery to work in a wide range of specializations—and knowing how to fly them.”