During its next meeting at the end of the month the board of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. will bring back two projects the board initially sent away.
The first project would create a technology center at the Gulf/Franklin Campus for training in using drone technology for emergency response and communications.
The second would be an upgrade of the fueling system at Apalachicola Regional Airport, which played a key role in the days following Hurricane Michael.
Both projects were initially referred by Triumph to the Florida Department of Emergency Management and the governor’s office for consideration for funding through emergency management measures.
However, neither was funded and they were returned to Triumph; the board decided during a phone meeting last week to consider both projects at its next meeting April 30.
The Gulf Coast State College proposal would combine an educational component with emergency management, according to Susan Skelton from the Triumph staff.
The project would also include training for the drone equipment required to bolster communications and other tools such as thermal imaging to be employed after a storm.
For example, where after Hurricane Michael the only available phone signals were found atop local bridges, the proposed technology center would develop and deploy drones that would provide cell phone service capabilities.
In addition, the drones would have thermal or infrared capabilities which would aid in searches following a disaster.
They would also have the ability to deploy equipment and medical supplies to distressed areas.
And, of course, we are not referring to small drones for personal use.
As Skelton noted, these would not be the small battery operated drones; they would be drones with the ability to stay in the air for hours in order to balance signals from the ground.
The drones would also have aerial refueling capabilities.
“I’m concerned about drones in general from an invasion of rights perspective, but it is a good project and I support it,” said board member and Former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense.
The project, for which GCSC is seeking nearly $4 million, would be another feather in the growing quiver of drone programs, both at high school and college levels, in the county.
“This project, for drone technology and where we are today, could morph into something more,” said Matt Terry, the Gulf County representative on the Triumph board.
“It sounds like a really good project that will not only help us but also people in other areas.”
The project at the Apalachicola Regional Airport would focus on an overhaul of the fueling system at the airport.
“This is a uniquely located site,” said Skelton, adding, “This was the only available airport (in the area) after Hurricane Michael.”
She noted that the fixed based operator at the airport had the foresight to ensure plenty fuel was on hand before the hurricane hit.
“They were an incredible help to the region in the recovery after Hurricane Michael,” Skelton said.
The project, for which just over $1 million is being sought, would fall under the county’s emergency operations and the airport a component of emergency response deployment, Skelton added.