Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Emergency Management Department Receives FAA Certifications for Drone Operations


In November of 2018 the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe crossed some exciting milestones toward helping to make the community safer and to help aid those impacted by natural disaster.

In early November, Nelson Andrews Jr, the Tribe’s Emergency Management Director along with Allyssa Hathaway, the Tribe’s Emergency Preparedness Specialist both participated in a customized two-day ground school provided by David Price, Co-Founder of the Drone Consultant Group (DCG). DCG is a company based in Massachusetts that provides drone safety training and certification to clients ranging from local town, to statewide and federal clients both public and private.

In early 2018 the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Emergency Management Department (MWTEMD) acquired the Small Unmanned Aircraft (sUAS) AKA; drone called the Inspire 1 Pro made by DJI. This model of drones are considered to be the standard for emergency services and can be used for many different types of missions.

Survey Mapping

New Tribal land located along meetinghouse road in Mashpee

New Tribal land located along meetinghouse road in Mashpee

The Tribe’s new drone capabilities can be used to perform multiple kinds of mapping missions. This can be used to map all of the tribe’s properties as an accurate and inexpensive form of asset management and hazard mitigation base mapping on the Cape with accuracy levels of just a few inches. These types of missions will be most useful when natural disasters impact the area and post storm damage needs to be assessed by insurers and Government entities. The Tribe’s aircraft are capable of mapping areas near coastlines to measure erosion, and can measure volumes accurate to 99%.

Also because the Tribe is building new housing properties in Mashpee along Meetinghouse Road. The Inspire 1 Pro went out in late December to create a survey map of the area. This survey map can be used to help develop property boundaries and help measure acreage, in addition to project progression.

Another type of mission that the Tribe’s new aircraft can perform is the inspection of Tribal buildings for storm damage, asset management, and even to measure snow depths to determine if a roof is at risk of collapse.

During one windy day this past October, a drone smaller then the Inspire 1, the Mavic flew autonomously around the Tribal Community and Government Center on Great Neck Road South and was able to quickly create something called an ortho photo. An ortho photo is when many photos are “stitched” together to create a composite image.

Lost and Found

Above - Ortho image made from several dozen photos of the Community and Government Center.

Above - Ortho image made from several dozen photos of the Community and Government Center.

One of the best reasons for acquiring the Tribe’s new aircraft is to assist in search missions for missing people and even pets by using the Tribe’s Zenmuse XT camera, a high resolution thermal camera, that is mounted under the drone. This thermal camera is sensitive to fractions of a degree and identical already have been used in Massachusetts to find missing people and dog’s successfully.

By using this aircraft with the thermal camera, the Tribe’s Emergency Management office can even take images of people’s home or other properties to identify areas of heat loss, whether through parts of windows or roofs that may need more insulation.

Incredible Milestone

Above - Same ortho image can easily create 3D models of tribal properties

Above - Same ortho image can easily create 3D models of tribal properties

As a government entity, the MWTEMD also filed an application with the Federal Aviation Administration for a Certificate of Authorization or COA. The COA allows the Tribe to have additional waivers that normal commercially licensed drone pilots may not have. The COA is how military pilots are certified to fly. They are certified by the FAA. The COA also means that the MWTEMD can self-certify the tribes own pilots for the future!

What is remarkable about this milestone is that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is among only a few government entities in New England and the first on Cape Cod to legally fly drones.

While both Nelson and Allyssa did also earned the FAA Remote Pilot certification which is required for commercial drone operations, the two of them are now positioned to be the leading drone experts in all of southeastern Massachusetts!