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A fleet of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) consisting of aerial drones and miniature aerostats were used to provide live situational awareness at a joint exercise between Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue (MDFD), the US Army and other agencies at the port of Miami. The combined forces were assigned the mission to mobilize and deploy to assess and/or mitigate a suspected weapon of mass destruction.

The exercise was the first step toward developing a robust UAS solution to help first responders, emergency managers, and military personnel establish more comprehensive situation awareness for a wide variety of mission sets.

According to, the maritime hazardous materials drill featured the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Special Operations Division and hazardous material teams working alongside reserve soldiers assigned to the Orlando-based 329th Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Company (Reconnaissance and Surveillance), supported by the Army Reserve’s Ambulance Company and the Florida National Guard’s Civil Support Team.

To evaluate the potential of UAS in providing live situational awareness in rapidly expanding incidents, MDFD requested support from Airborne Response – a Miami-based drone services and consulting firm.  The objective for the UAS was to provide a constant video feed of the exercise into MDFD’s mobile command center where the incident command staff and exercise control staff would be stationed.

“This was a tremendous opportunity to highlight the emerging potential of unmanned aircraft systems for emergency response,” according to Christopher Todd, President and Founder of Airborne Response. “Our primary tasking was to help increase the operational intelligence coming in to the command team as the exercise evolved. Our flight teams were able to capture and stream video perspectives that would have otherwise have been unavailable.”

To accomplish their goal, Airborne Response used a combination of three different remote pilot and observer flight teams each flying separate DJI drones — including the Inspire 2, Matrice 100, Phantom 4 Pro, and Mavic Pro — at varying times. The flight schedule allowed for a continuous rotation of pilots and aircraft over the more than six-hour duration of the exercise.

Airborne Response also had access to a secret UAS weapon that had never before been tested in a live exercise — a new version of an ALTA SmartBalloon system carrying specially customized DJI equipment and payload.

“The ALTA SmartBalloon system allowed us to have a continuous eye-in-the-sky for the duration of the exercise.  The aerostat provided a live video of the wide view, while the drones were able to maneuver as needed to capture unique angles and up-close live stream perspectives of each exercise evolution,” says Todd.

“The new SmartBalloon worked almost flawlessly,” according to Candido Hernandez, Chief Engineer for Altametry, the firm that developed and manufactures system. “The DJI gimbal and camera system handled the wind gusts much better than we anticipated.”

Hernandez says the DJI equipment on the SmartBalloon included a Zenmuse Z3 camera systems, N3 flight controller, and a Lightbridge 2 video transmission system, all powered by a single DJI Matrice battery which lasted for the full duration of the exercise.