Local drone operator brings military technology to flood respons

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DARLINGTON (WKOW) — A local drone operator is bringing a technology used by NASA and the U.S. Army to Wisconsin, to help emergency responders after devastation.

David Geisler is relocating a software company called Rapid Imaging from New Mexico to Mount Horeb. The specialized mapping technology from Rapid Imaging has been used in manned aircraft since the nineties, but with the move, this is the first time it's being used in unmanned aircraft like drones.

“Anyone using a drone who really wants to know where they're looking could take advantage of this technology,” Geisler says.

On Saturday, the team captured images of Darlington and Cassville under water. Geisler says the features can help emergency management officials better understand how flooding, tornadoes or other incidents are impacting the region. 

“Instead of just seeing a flooded area, they actually can see points of interest: roads, streets, to include inserting their own points of interest that are important to them when it comes to infrastructure,” Geisler tells 27 News. 

Iowa County Sheriff Steve Michek is considering the technology for his county, where they saw 35 to 40 damaged homes and farms over the weekend floods. He says it could provide for efficient damage assessment and it could give emergency management teams a better look at how to prevent flooding in the future.

“When you look down form above, you get a different perspective,” Michek says. “You could see where you need to do mitigation, to potentially help keep that threat from occurring again, if it was a dam or a certain waterway that contributed to that flood event.”

Michek also sees a benefit to using drones for small, rural departments like Iowa County, where he has only two to three deputies who can respond to incidents throughout the area. Rapid Imaging recently helped the sheriff's office with a mock emergency incident, using aerial shots of a school, to help deputies train in response. 

Rapid Imaging is also a member of Wisconsin Emergency Management's drone network. The state agency has a new, emergency operations center that can take live feeds of drones flying over areas in a state of emergency.

Geisler is still finalizing details of the changes for the company. He's working with Bunker Labs, an organization that helps veterans create startups. It's expected to be announced this fall. 

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