Before FEMA Arrived, Private Drone Mapped Colorado Flooding [Updated]

An 8-foot drone did what larger aircraft couldn't in the wake of devastating rains.

In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, emergency responders need clear images of the affected area as quickly as possible. When massive flooding hit Colorado last week, a local company called CLMax Engineering volunteered their drone to take aerial photos of submerged communities. The Falcon UAV began to create a map of the flooded areas, until the Federal Emergency Management Agency took over and told the company to stop.

The camera-carrying Falcon UAV weighs 9.5 pounds, can fly for an hour, and has a wingspan of 8 feet. It's launched into the air by hand, like a giant paper airplane. With FAA approval, police in Mesa County, Colo., tested the drone for search and rescue missions, wildland fire monitoring, and broad area suspect searches, and the Falcon UAV is now cleared to fly with police in the county during daytime hours.

CLMax Engineering launched the drone into the storm on September 11 and partnered with Colorado-based DroneMapper to build maps out of the images collected during just a few flights.

According to a post published Saturday on the Falcon UAV blog, for three days after the storm CLMax Engineering volunteered their services to the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center. Other aircraft were grounded due to weather. The Falcon UAV created this map of the flooded area: