Doug Stowe, a geography professor at San Diego State University, is working on a federally-funded project to develop flying drones equipped with cameras and GPS to take aerial photographs of sites, creating a map of critical infrastructure areas — including bridges, dams, and power plants.
Then, after a disaster event, the drone could be sent up again to take pictures of the precise, GPS-tagged location. The pics would be sent to a program that would detect which damages might be of immediate concern, helping emergency crews prioritize their response.
Such maps have other uses, too — in southern California in particular, they could be used to predict areas that may be threatened by a wildfire, or in agriculture, to help monitor vast crop fields.
A project like this might have been unthinkable only a few years ago — but since then, drones, GPS, and aerial imagery have come a long way (and become more affordable, too)!