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Utah man helps emergency crews in Hawaii with drone

OGDEN — A Utah man has been helping emergency crews measure and predict flows, as the Kilauea volcano on the big island of Hawaii continues to spew lava.

Jon McBride, from Ogden, has spent the last 15 years flying and building drones and was called in to help the emergency operation with special thermal cameras.

“With your naked eye looking across this hillside you can’t [the lava]. But once you get a thermal camera in the air you can see the ones that have slowed down and are cooling down and aren’t glowing red,” McBride said.

He’s the Vice President of technology at Rocky Mountain Unmanned Systems, a company that sells drones for emergency services. On the ground McBride’s team worked with the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, a group that helped with emergency services after hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico last year. McBride said he checked the direction, speed and location of lava flows so that emergency crews had an idea where they were headed.

“There really isn’t much to do except to report back as fast as possible, make sure people are evacuated out of the areas,” he said. “At one point, or another, a drone was used to map out an older road to see if they could bull-doze an area to clear a path just in case the flow went over the current road. That, indeed, did happen as far as I know.”

McBride returned to Utah last Saturday, as other team members took over monitoring the lava.

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CONTRIBUTING: Carter Williams, KSL.com