Drone technology is evolving at a rapid pace. Advancements in the industry are delivering drones with increased flight time, increased durability, enhanced sensors and all-weather capabilities. Emergency services have begun to discover the many benefits that drone technology can offer and are applying the technology to develop new and creative solutions directed towards assisting people in need all over the world.
At the onset of an emergency, first responders have come to trust drones and their ability to be deployed within minutes and reach accident sites in a timely manner. They provide a lifesaving tactical view of almost any situation, from crowd control to search and rescue, even in the most difficult weather conditions. Their ability to collect accurate data in real time gives incident commanders the ability to make well-educated decisions faster than ever before. With drones, incident commanders have superior situational awareness providing them the capability to efficiently deploy all resources at their disposal. Drones enable better planning, reduce risk, and reduce cost while at the same time improving safety for emergency crews and the public.
The latest developments in drone technology have made them smaller, more agile and easier to control. In many situations, they have replaced traditional and expensive fixed-wing aircrafts, helicopters, and even satellites at a fraction of the cost. Unlike a piloted aircraft, a drone can be sent into situations which are dangerous or difficult to access, such as urban environments, difficult terrain, low visibility sites, and hazardous weather conditions. Access to this critical information gives emergency services a better understanding of the situation a ground crew will be confronting when they arrive. In addition, drones are easy to use for people of all skill levels. This greatly reduces the amount of training time required, especially when compared to a pilot.
Delivering Medicines and Supplies
In recent news, drones have been successfully delivering emergency medical supplies to remote areas of Puerto Rico which are still affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. After the hurricane struck, new drone technology was put to the test. Emergency teams deployed temperature-controlled cargo containers, giving them the ability to transport vaccines and non-refrigerated cargo such as asthma and hypertension medicines. The important breakthrough needed was the approval of the FAA giving drones the green light to fly beyond the line of sight in difficult terrain. Once this was achieved, disaster relief agencies could begin delivering medicines to remote mountain villages that were completely cut off from roads and electricity for months after the hurricane struck.
In Alaska, drones are also being tested for frequent, but dangerous deliveries of medical supplies. A team of experts led by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks is developing drone delivery capabilities for emergency medical supplies and cargo across Alaska. This could lead to lifesaving improvements for remote Alaskan communities that are not connected to roads. In the past, Alaska has famously deployed dog teams to deliver medical supplies in emergencies; experts argue drones are the logical next leap in technology to effectively replace this nostalgic, but treacherous delivery method. As it stands, FAA regulations are some of the last obstacles to overcome before this research becomes an everyday reality for the citizens of Alaska.
When you picture drones delivering medical supplies, the first thing that comes to mind is remote areas and disaster situations with difficult to reach locations. However, if you consider urban congestion and traffic a barrier for emergency services, then cities can benefit from drone deliveries as well. One creative use of drones in an urban environment comes from the city of Reno, Nevada. The city recently participated in the FAA’s Drone Integration Pilot Program (IPP) to simulate the delivery of automated external defibrillators (AEDs). After successful testing Nevada became the first state in the US to launch an AED delivery service, working together with a local drone delivery company and 911 services. When a cardiac arrest call is received a traditional ambulance and a drone carrying an AED are dispatched to the scene of the emergency. Research shows that the quicker defibrillation can be administered, the higher the odds of survival are for cardiac arrest victims.
As drone technology continues to improve, so does its ability to save lives in places where circumstances have cut off access to critically needed healthcare. In disaster situations many deaths are attributed to the initial event, but just as many can be attributed to disruptions in vital infrastructure and services in the aftermath of a disaster. Drones have the capabilities to address many of the difficulties emergency services face when trying to reduce response times, including administering treatment in time-sensitive situations. There is little doubt that drone technology will continue to revolutionize emergency services, providing improvements in range, delivery time, cost-effectiveness, and critical safety.