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DRMP Uses UAV Technology to Survey and Reduce Damage in NC Landslides

July 15th, 2020 by August Thick, SI, CST III


On Friday, February 22, 2019, a landslide occurred, dumping approximately 4-million gallons of rock and soil on Interstate 40, a major highway in the western part of North Carolina. The landslide shut down westbound I-40 and an eastbound exit just before midnight. Working as a subconsultant to S&ME, Inc. on a North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) project, our mission was to help get the highway open to keep traffic moving. 

Within 10-hours of the landslide, DRMP surveyors were mobilized and, on the site, prepared to launch our unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to start collecting data for NCDOT to aid in their planning to get this major highway that stretches between North Carolina and Tennessee open.

By using specialized UAV equipment, along with our several years of surveying expertise was key. My team set ground control and flew several UAV missions to create surface models to help ensure the area was safe for the public. The surface models allow the NCDOT to see what the landslide consisted of to develop their plan of action. Without surface models, voids and hazards might have been missed. It’s a known fact that landslides are common to this area and are volatile and likely to happen again. To mitigate future damage, my team went back to the site of the landslide days and weeks later to perform more UAV missions and surveys of the area. My team and I feel the surveying services we provided really helped speed up the recovery process.

This isn’t the first time, we’ve helped gather data with UAVs for landslides in North Carolina.  In addition to the I-40 landslide, we assisted with two other landslides in western North Carolina, the Buffalo Creek Road and Gerton Highway landslides that happened just southeast of Asheville, North Carolina. Our team is ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice when a landslide occurs, but we also have the expertise to provide data that helps mitigate future data in recurring landslides.

After the Buffalo Creek Road landslide in January 2019, a few months before the I-40 slide, DRMP set monitoring points and aerial targets to inspect ground movement near Bald Mountain Lake at the surface. After setting and surveying the points, we flew UAV missions on four separate occasions and provided 3D models of the area. This confirmed a movement problem that needed to be addressed.

Our team flew a UAV mission to support a volume study for the Gerton Highway landslide which also occurred in January 2019. The study was for the excavation of volatile areas on the highway. We provided a 3D model to be used to design a “V”-shaped slope with a catchment in the center to direct future falls away from traffic. This helped the NCDOT get ahead of the major damage another landslide could cause.

With our growing experience in mobilizing support and the latest technology for real-time and future landslides, my team and I are becoming an asset to be used in helping the region avoid and lessen hazards due to recurring landslides. It’s gratifying for me and my team to perform a service where we can see the relief it provides to our community.

Posted in the categories All, Featured Posts, Surveying & Mapping.