Early Saturday morning, Chris Miser was headed to the mountain town of Lyons, Colorado, to get a bird's-eye view of the devastation from recent and historic flooding. Miser, who owns Falcon UAV, a Colorado-based small-fry drone manufacturer, had been cruising Falcon's flagship glider on short damage assessment mapping flights over some of the most floodworn portions of the state, where over 1,000 civilians are now unaccounted for. He hoped to make a second pass over Lyons, a small town at the base of the Rockies and one of the hardest hit areas in Colorado.
Then the Federal Emergency Management Agency showed up.
The agency had caught wind of Miser's dronings, and contacted the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center, saying that it would be taking over aerial assessment operations, and that Miser's request to fly, in line with FAA Certificate of Authorization protocol, was denied. And not only that—anyone flying drones in the region would be arrested.
Why, in the largest emergency response since Hurricane Katrina, is the nation's foremost disaster mitigation group actively grounding services that advocates say provide valuable support in times of crises both natural and manmade? As of press time the agency did not get back to my request for comment. I'll update accordingly should I hear back.
For now, we're left with Miser's word that FEMA shut him down without inquiring into what exactly he was even up to.
"They didn't even bother to see if we could help," Miser tells me.