BIS and Skyvision Support Van Zandt Tornado Disaster Recovery

On Saturday, April 29th multiple tornadoes ripped through Van Zandt County. One tore a 40-mile path through the center of the County and through the county seat, Canton. Unfortunately, four people were killed and dozens were injured. Our hearts and prayers go out to those people directly impacted by the disaster. The cleanup operation will take weeks if not months.


After a natural disaster such as a tornado strike, time is of the essence. Emergency services and recovery teams need to know the most heavily damaged areas, including ownership information. County Appraisal Districts are bombarded with information requests, including imagery of the impacted areas, and the number of requests can be overwhelming.

In the case of Van Zandt County, the appraisal district asked BIS Consulting if we could help provide the information needed. The answer was a resounding “yes.”

BIS Consulting was able to provide parcel boundary and ownership information free of charge to emergency responders. Our database provides the information in an industry-standard Esri Shapefile format. We provided links to our GIS Interactive Map, which allows field operators to access the information remotely or out in the field. At the same time we contacted our industry partner, specialist drone operators and aerial photographers, SkyVision. SkyVision’s drones are flown by ex-military pilots, and are smaller and more nimble than traditional aircraft. This means that in most cases they can get closer to the affected areas. When combined with today’s small, high-resolution digital camera technology, SkyVision’s drones are able to take excellent quality photographs at very short notice.

However, before SkyVision’s drones were able to operate, the company needed plan and coordinate with the FAA and local authorities. This required information from BIS Consulting so that we could maximize the coverage of damaged areas, and this in turn meant providing details of the tornado’s track data. Although BIS Consulting was unable to confirm the optimal route until the National Weather Service had provided the tornado track data, one of our GIS team members utilized the Texas storm chaser networks to obtain an early, unconfirmed plot of the tornado track. This information was passed on to SkyVision and this in turn meant the pilots were able to plot a preliminary flight plan. When the National Weather Service released the official tornado track data, SkyVision was able to expedite their final flight plan process and the aircraft was sent up into the air on Thursday, May 4th.

Once the SkyVision drone had provided detailed imagery, they were immediately processed and added to our database – taking just five days.

This meant that Van Zandt CAD had access to detailed, high resolution photography of the impacted area only ten days after the disaster, with the advantage that this was achieved at a fraction of the cost of traditional aerial imagery techniques. We added the post-tornado imagery to the database to allow the damage to be compared and assessed with pre-tornado photographs. Furthermore, the information gathered allowed our GIS team to produce paper maps and run a number of analysis reports to show the affected properties, which can be emailed as a spreadsheet to interested parties.

BIS Consulting and SkyVision are happy to have been able to help the Van Zandt County Appraisal District in a difficult situation, where intelligent use of technology can make a real difference in bringing information to the emergency services in a timely and efficient manner. However, SkyVision’s drones and our GIS Interactive Map services are not just for emergency situations! The power of this partnership will allow most Appraisal Districts the ability to obtain high quality imagery with a robust GIS Interactive Map at a fraction of the cost and time.

See Van Zandt’s GIS Interactive Map! Click on Skyvision in the Basemap Selector