Telecommunication issues notwithstanding, last Thursday’s meeting of the board of Triumph Gulf Coast was quite productive for Gulf Coast State College.
The Triumph board finalized a grant agreement with the college for a drone "boot camp" program for exiting military personnel and their spouses in eight Northwest Florida counties.
The "boot camp" would provide a hybrid instructional structure, much of it virtual, and permit students to earn up to eight certifications in unmanned aerial systems within 16 weeks.
The program’s design will allow entry points for students earning certifications in the county public high school drone programs, which hit a bump this past year with COVID-19 forcing school closures.
Jim McKnight, executive director of the county Economic Development Coalition and chair of the GCSC board of trustees, has characterized the "boot camp" as a "wrap-around" to the high school curriculum.
High school students throughout the same eight Northwest Florida counties would also be a focus of the program.
The Triumph board also finalized an agreement with the college to create a technical center at the Gulf/Franklin campus which would address a host of issues central to disaster readiness and response.
The college is partnering with Wewahitchka based Skyborne Technology, a wholly-owned subsidiary of UAV Corp, (OTC: HTTI), which is contributing $2.38 million to the project; the total price tag for the six-year project is over $9 million with Triumph providing $5.1 million.
The college is kicking in more than $2.4 million directly and through its Unmanned Vehicle Systems (UVS) programs.
The Triumph board approved an additional $53,000 last week for the purchase of equipment to enhance beach safety and rescue following storms.
"It was a big day for everybody, a home run," said Skyborne CEO Mike Lawson.
The disaster response and readiness proposal combines an educational component with emergency management, according to the grant proposal.
On the educational side, the proposal aims to provide 763 participants sufficient applicable certifications, tied to CAPE or Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) requirements.
Those earning those certifications will also emerge employable.
The program is also focused on exiting military and their spouses as well as high school students in the eight Northwest Florida counties most-impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The proposed technology center would develop and deploy unmanned systems to provide cell phone and other communication capabilities as well as thermal or infrared equipment to aid in searches following a disaster.
The systems would be able to remain in the air for extended periods, deploying drones to assist in communications, searches and the deployment of equipment and medical supplies to distressed areas.
Skyborne Technology, with many of the essential tools, such as the "mothership" and drone technology already in its kit, would be a key partner to the proposal.
"Our community was devastated by a Category 5 hurricane," said GCSC President Dr. John Holdnak. "If we would have had some these assets (losses and recovery time would have been lessened)
"This will really show a step-up in lifesaving efforts in Northwest Florida."
The college recently announced registration for the "boot camp," with the first online cohort beginning last week
Under the "boot camp" proposal, Triumph is providing $2.3 million in grant funds and the college is matching that with $955,937.
Unmanned Safety Institute (USI), with an office at the Gulf/Franklin campus, will also provide matching funds in the amount of $790,000.
In four months a student could earn all the certifications for "outside of line of sight flying."
"We look forward to serving our communities in Northwest Florida with this grant," Holdnak said, Triumph board chair saying it was "an important project."
Triumph Gulf Coast is legislatively-charged with disbursing some $1.5 billion in fine dollars to the eight counties most-impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The drone programs in the county public high schools was funded in large measure by Triumph, as was expansion of the agricultural and welding curriculum at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School.