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Horry County, S.C., Officials Use Drones to Gather Coastal Storm Data

County officials held a press conference Monday to explain the program, and to alert the public to the drones’ presence.

(TNS) -- That black mass hovering over South Carolina's Grand Strand beaches that sounds like an angry swarm of bees is part of the county’s new drone system that is analyzing damage caused by Hurricane Matthew.

The drones can be seen about 400 feet in the air on most sunny afternoons during low tide, snapping images from the dunes to the water to calculate erosion and sand loss, says Tim Oliver, chief information officer of Horry County Information Technology and Geographical Information Systems.

The drones began working just days before Hurricane Matthew struck in October, and were able to capture data of dunes in Garden City that were later obliterated by the storm.

Because of the drones and the extensive software that quickly compiled data, county officials were able to file erosion information with the federal government within days, instead of months, in the hopes of securing beach renourishment funding, Oliver said.

Now officials are using the drones daily to gather data and create a baseline of the entire Grand Strand for future comparisons after storms to track erosion. The drones will be used once again for data mapping after renourishment work is completed, Oliver said.

The project started simultaneously at Little River and Garden City, and will meet in the middle to conclude in January.

County officials held a press conference Monday to explain the program, and to alert the public to the drones’ presence.

The machine will capture still photos only, no videos will be shot, and the photo lens will be angled straight down, Oliver said.

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and hospitably association have been notified so they can help explain the drone’s mission to guests to curtail any alarm by the flying cameras, said Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman.

“Especially with tourists that might be staying in hotels, if they see the drones flying, we just wanted hoteliers to be aware of the fact we are on the beach and flying them for a specific purpose, for a beach erosion project,” Oliver said.

The drones were also used after the storm to fly over debris piles to calculate the yardage of debris collected for pickup.

In the future, the county plans to use the drones to calculate impervious surfaces and determine storm water fees, and set fees for new commercial property.

They are also planning on purchasing an infrared lens for the $12,000 system, that can be used to aid fire, police and other emergency personnel in search and rescue missions.

The drone missions will be conducted by two county employees who are certified by the FAA to pilot unmanned aircraft, and two additional pilots are undergoing the certification process.

©2016 The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.