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A new angle on flooding

May 10, 2019
Feature Stories

Kris Gough has seen a lot in his 27 years with the City of Ottawa. During the day, Kris is a traffic assessment investigator, but for the past 25 years he’s also been a volunteer firefighter. Working out of Station 93 in Greely, Kris operates drones for Ottawa Fire Services.


Becoming a licensed drone operator is not a simple feat: Kris went to ground-school at Humber College and has been flying for two years. He is keenly aware of the drones’ limitations, especially in high winds. He must also stay up-to-date with Transport Canada regulations as they are refined and updated to keep pace with drone technology.


When a drone arrives on scene, people naturally flock to it. This can present a challenge: the law is clear that drones can’t operate within 30 metres of bystanders. When Kris is out flying, he must operate it within view at all time and keep a safe distance from other aircraft, including other drones. Amateur drone pilots often interfere with his work.

The City of Ottawa only recently began using drones - Ottawa Fire Services, Ottawa Police Service and Hydro Ottawa are the only groups that currently rely on the unique viewpoint provided by drones. Fire Services uses different drone cameras depending on the task: a thermal camera comes in handy during fires, while a high-resolution camera with a zoom lens provides incredibly high-quality images for more precise work.

The City didn’t have drones during the 2017 floods. Ottawa Fire Services drone footage has given new insight into the magnitude of the damage and how far inland the damage reached.

Before water levels began to rise, Kris was called in to capture aerial images. He visited areas all along the Ottawa and Rideau rivers. When he returned to the same locations some days later, many of the original sites used to launch the drone were under water. From the air, the contrast between the before and after images is powerful. That’s the strength of the drone’s point of view: you often don’t realize just how bad things are until you see them from above.

Kris met many residents during his first visits to the flood-affected areas, finding them optimistic that they would be able to hold the waters back. A week later, many of them were faced with the reality that Mother Nature was going to win this battle, despite their efforts.

They say a photo is worth a thousand words: the images from Kris’ drones speak volumes.

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