Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) Uses Drones to Support Tornado Recovery

On January 12th, 2023, a powerful tornado ripped through the southwest portion of the city of Selma in Alabama. Very shortly after the Tornado had passed and the weather cleared, UAS Program Administrator at ALDOT J.D. D'Arville and his team of drone pilots were on-site collecting imagery of the affected and surrounding area. 



Emergency Response


United States


Rapidly creating new basemap data from drone imagery with powerful new image processing tools.

  • Multiple drones required for collection
  • Lack of basic services on-site
  • Management of large datasets
  • Rapid turnaround and delivery

  • Drones can be mobilized and on-site quickly
  • Deployment can initiated from multiple locations to cover priority areas
  • Processing can happen over a few hours only
  • New map products can be created and distributed same day

“SimActive’s Correlator3D allows us to process huge datasets rapidly and distribute them to the many groups that need the data, which is critical when responding to disaster like this one.”

J.D. D'Arville

UAS Program Administrator at Alabama Department of Transportation.

Selma Full


When the team arrived in Selma shortly after the tornado, it was clear that they had a large area of damage for image collection. Being on top of the data acquisition is one thing, but there must be consideration in how to best process the data as well. In this situation, because of  the lack of basic utilities, the team had to process offsite back at the department's facilities. 

Fortunately, ALDOT has been planning for projects such as these since JD’s team was put together. Over the past few years, they have developed one of the most advanced processing facilities around. It includes workstations with powerful GPUs, networked to take advantage of distributed processing. For emergency response, the goal is to get data into the hands of stakeholders as rapidly as possible, even overnight. This required the ability to import an extremely large number of images (18,000+), process them as a whole and then tile the output into manageable data for distribution. Using advanced automated processing workflows in SimActive’s Correlator3D software, the team was able to process the Selma data and begin delivery within 24 hours of acquiring the data. 


Typical deliverables include digital surface models and tiled orthomosaics.



The benefits of using Correlator3D according to ALDOT is the ability to manage the production of such large projects, using automated workflows and distributed processing to turn datasets around very rapidly.



The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) is a state agency with the primary responsibility of statewide transportation through all modes of travel. ALDOT employs approximately 4,000 people and utilizes federal, state, and local funds. Its UAS department was formed in 2016 and includes 7 drone pilots centrally located within the State. Operating primarily fixed-wing drones, the team is on track to complete over 4,300 missions this year.