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Florida Division of Emergency Management Engages Innovative Technology to Assist in Underwater Debris Removal


Florida Division of Emergency Management Engages Innovative Technology to Assist in Underwater Debris Removal

Today, the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) highlighted the use of sonar technology to assist with underwater debris removal in Lee and Charlotte Counties. To date, over 5,600 total items including vehicles, vessels, and other debris within the navigable waterways of Charlotte, Collier, and Lee County have been identified and over 430,000 cubic yards (12,345 loads) of wet debris have been removed with the assistance of sonar side scan targets. This accounts for an estimated 80% of total underwater debris.

"The Division remains committed to engaging technology and coming up with innovative solutions to help communities recover from disasters,” said FDEM Director Kevin Guthrie. “I want to thank the many law enforcement officers who have been working on this initiative as well as the students from GCSC for their continued work and research that will help to create a more resilient Florida in the wake of future disasters.”

"Based on the experiences our community encountered during Hurricane Michael, the College knew we had to find a way to provide assets, training, and resources to be able to account for, repair, and recover from any natural or man-made disasters," said GCSC Executive Director of Operations David Thomasee. "The TEMPEST program is proud to be able to serve our state in a time of need as well as give our students the opportunity to experience real-world situations."

In November 2022, students from Gulf Coast State College’s (GCSC) Training, Education, Management, and Planning for Emergencies using Scenario-based training and Technology-based solutions (TEMPEST) program deployed to Lee County to assist the Florida Division of Emergency Management and local law enforcement agencies with sonar mapping of underwater debris. At the conclusion of each search day, the data collected was analyzed and compiled into a mapping program to provide responding agencies with a clear picture of debris recovery zones underwater. This project encompassed approximately 670 square nautical miles across Charlotte, Collier, and Lee counties.

Within 72-hours of the initial mission, several Law Enforcement Offices mobilized resources and deployed to assist with this effort, with many working through the Thanksgiving holiday. The following Law Enforcement Offices were critical in the success of the program:

  • Broward County Sherriff’s Office
  • Clay County Sherriff’s Office
  • Collier County Sherriff’s Office
  • Fort Lauderdale Police Department
  • Jacksonville Sherriff’s Office
  • Miccosukee Tribal Police Department
  • Monroe Sherriff’s Office
  • Orange County Sherriff’s Office
  • Pembroke Pines Police Department


TEMPEST was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael which made landfall in Bay County, FL in October 2018. The catastrophic damage caused by this storm identified the need for real-time collection and processing of data for emergency operations. Given the inherent risk to life for emergency responders, the TEMPEST project aims to reduce that risk through the use of unmanned vehicle systems.

A wide variety of items have been located including everything from debris to sunken boats, and cars. Additionally, one search group found a portion of a house in the water more than a half mile away from land. 


Updated: Thursday, March 30, 2023
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