Drones are finding their way into many different industries at a rapid pace. Designed to provide cost effective, real time data and imaging, drones are proving invaluable in difficult conditions and are reducing risk to personnel. They’re the perfect alternative to any job that can benefit from an aerial vantage point and are ideal for a wide variety of applications, including search and rescue (SAR) efforts. Drones are now being used for many SAR operations that were traditionally time consuming or prohibitively expensive, including searches for suspects, missing persons, and disaster survivors.
Benefits of Drones in Search and Rescue Operations
Search and rescue drones are used by emergency services such as police officers, firefighters, and volunteer rescue teams, because they are well-suited to searching vast areas for missing persons and crime victims in need of rescue in any environment. Drones can provide rescuers with crucial real-time visual information and data in the aftermath of natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. They can also become an eye in the sky, used to locate a lost person even in difficult terrain. Any time a life-threatening catastrophe strikes, emergency responders use information and real-time images from drones in order to make better decisions and save valuable time. Drones can quickly provide situational awareness on an unprecedented scale, drastically reducing the amount of time and resources required to locate and rescue an injured or lost person.
Many agencies involved in search and rescue operations have turned to drones to improve their life-saving capabilities. A drone can be deployed within minutes of arrival on a scene, saving time and costly deployment of manned aircrafts. A drone flying at altitude and equipped with a high-resolution camera for daylight and a thermal infrared sensor for nighttime searches will significantly increase the probability of target detection. Further aiding in the search for missing persons is the infrared camera; when easily fitted to a drone, these cameras can detect human body heat. This capability greatly increases the ability to find people or objects – day or night – that may otherwise be hidden from view. Law enforcement has been using infrared cameras fitted to manned aircraft to assist in tracking and locating suspects for years; drones are making these endeavors far easier and safer. This same imaging technology can also be captured with a drone in a quicker, more cost-effective manner. Fire departments benefit from the same capabilities: the ability to rapidly deploy a drone for surveillance gives real-time aerial video to firefighting crews. Thermal cameras provide vision through smoke and can quickly identify persons in need of rescue in the path of a wildfire or in a burning building.
What makes drones so attractive to searchers and rescuers is their ability to fly into dangerous and hard-to-reach places without putting pilots and crew in danger. In addition to safety benefits, there is also an added bonus in that drones can perform these types of operations at a fraction of the cost associated with a traditional helicopter or plane. This improves the overall lifesaving capabilities and effectiveness of an operation, since rescuers can operate several drones covering a much broader area, providing them real-time overhead footage of an area that can be used to look for survivors. Drones can also replace manned aircraft for deliveries of medical kits and other supplies to areas that are potentially quarantined or inaccessible to rescuers, helping keep people safe until help arrives.
Drones have proven themselves invaluable in many natural disasters by helping to speed up rescue efforts and improve efficiency when quick response times are critical. They are very useful to rescue teams in the aftermath of a disaster. By using high resolution cameras, they can quickly identify safe areas suitable as operational bases. The aerial vantage point gives rescuers the ability to rapidly assess what areas have been hit hardest by a disaster and determine which roads are accessible to people in need of rescue. Traditionally, these tasks are completed by rescuers on foot, which consumes valuable time and manpower.
Drone Operations In the Future
New regulations should make it easier for emergency services to quickly deploy drones on any emergency scene, helping to give them the advantage of instant real time aerial assessment. Surprisingly, a major roadblock to the use of drones in the United States is obtaining the permits for their use. The arguments slowing the process include privacy concerns that have many people uncertain about how and when drones should be allowed. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has maintained a strict policy granting very limited authorization to businesses and organizations, but this is slowly starting to change as regulators are realizing the important life-saving capabilities drones possess. This move in the right direction is encouraging drone developers to work with rescuers, training them on the various uses of drones and designing drones that better resist challenging conditions in the field.