HUNTSVILLE – While performing recent drone search and rescue work in the wake of Hurricane Ian in Florida, a team that included a University of Alabama in Huntsville researcher spotted a stranded boater who was subsequently rescued.
Civil Air Patrol 1st Lt. Casey Calamaio, Alabama Wing director of operations for UAS, was on the patrol’s small Unmanned Aircraft Systems team that pinpointed the boater. He is a research engineer in the Rotorcraft Systems Engineering and Simulation Center at UAH.
“This was as real as it gets when it comes to UAS in an emergency response situation,” said Calamaio, who also supported efforts as a UAS pilot and geospatial subject matter expert. “We arrived in Florida during a period of the disaster response where it wasn’t just cleanup.”
Calamaio was deployed as a UAS mission pilot under CAP’s Title 10 status, which allows the federal government to use civilian force multipliers for disaster response efforts. He has been a CAP UAS mission pilot for about three years.
He joined a team from CAP’s Missouri Wing to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency ground search and rescue efforts. At the time he arrived, survivors were still being found and the search for missing persons was the top priority, he said.
UAH’s RSESC supported Calamaio in making the trip.
“Our UAS Research Programs under the RSESC has a long-running research focus on
implementing UAS in disaster response and community resilience research,” he said.
UAH is the lead university on a program researching disaster response for the FAA’s
Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence Center of Excellence.
“In Florida, we pushed the limits of the aircraft in ways that really demonstrated the
capability of UAS as a tool in supporting large scale disaster relief efforts,” Calamaio said.
“Every day was a little different, and my team had to be ready to change pace on a moment’s notice depending on what the priority task was at any given time.”
Calamaio flew into Miami and drove to the CAP base of operations in a hangar in northern
Naples, arriving with a government-approved UAS manufactured in the United States and
used widely by the Department of Defense.
“This aircraft is a specialty unmanned system that is approved for use on federal response
efforts,” he said. “We would deploy very early every morning from north Naples and drive
to the Jet Blue Stadium, where the Boston Red Sox host spring training.”
The location served as one of many operations bases and emergency fuel depots.
“We would receive a location to rendezvous with the task force field operators and receive
tasking on a daily basis,” he said. “The areas we operated in were Fort Myers Beach, Matlacha Island and causeway, Pine Island Causeway and San Carlos. These were some of the worst-hit areas.”
Dense vegetation in the coastal mangroves in those areas made foot or boat searches
difficult, and the UAS proved to be efficient search tools.
“Our main mission sets were reconnaissance missions, aerial mapping missions, hasty
searches, missing person searches and validation missions for debris or capsized boats or
collapsed structures,” Calamaio said.
Growing up in Vermont, Calamaio was in the CAP Cadet Program. He’s now a senior
member of the Redstone Composite Squadron in Huntsville and a subject matter expert
with the CAP National Technology Center’s UAS Program and the Geospatial Program.
Being part of the Florida UAS team provided him with excellent practical experience in the
structure, resources and extent of the national incident management system, Calamaio
“There were FEMA task forces from all over the country who brought urban search and
rescue capabilities and resources to support the relief effort,” he said. “It was an extremely
enlightening opportunity to see firsthand, and I am encouraged to continue my volunteer
work in this area and to pursue emergency management as a career path.”