Francesca Oliver / October 20, 2020

Six ways drones are helping in emergency response

Francesca Oliver By Francesca Oliver

Emergency response teams are often working against the clock and in conditions that greatly reduce their mobility across  the ground. 

Rapid deployment of first response within 60 minutes of an incident (known as the ‘golden hour’) can mean the difference between life and death, and drones can be a hugely valuable tool in making a first assessment. While a disaster is ongoing, drones can be extremely useful in aiding emergency services to figure out how best to plan their rescue efforts.

Increasingly, drones are being used to assist these services in various stages of emergency management. In fact, UAVs can assist with managing the impact of a disaster both during and after the event. Just this year, the procurement arm of the UK Government and Emergency Services announced an £8 million agreement for companies with the latest drone technologies to provide its products to the emergency services. 

We explore the various ways that these drones can aid emergency services around the world in managing disaster response and relief operations.

Use of drones in flood disasters

Drone observations can help assess the direction in which the flood is heading. They can even predict which buildings might be at risk, and therefore best prioritise areas that should be evacuated.

The UAVs aerial images make clear the best routes to lead evacuations, as well as identifying the clearest path  when rescuing people by boat.

Use of drones in earthquakes 

Similarly, drones have been indispensable in rescue efforts in the aftermath of an earthquake . The 2008 Sichuan earthquake was one of the most destructive earthquakes in history;  many buildings and bridges collapsed, as the infrastructure was unable to hold up to the shock waves. Rescue teams used UAVs to identify routes that were unusable due to caved in tunnels or bridges that had given way. They were also used to identify population-dense buildings that had collapsed, such as schools and hospitals, so that rescue teams could effectively target priority areas. 

Use of drones in search and rescue

Whether in disaster scenarios, or with more common search and rescue missions, it's important that missing persons are found as soon as possible to maximise their chance of survival. 

In natural disasters such as earthquakes, or in devastation caused by explosions, people can be trapped under rubble. In floods it’s also likely that people can get stuck in areas with no safe way to escape such as rooftops or top-floor rooms. Equally, in search and rescue missions, terrain is often difficult to navigate, such as mountain regions or vast areas of natural landscape.

Drones used for these types of  search and rescue mission are often equipped with thermal imaging cameras which can help find missing persons in areas that are difficult to search. This not only makes them more accurate for aiding in finding survivors, but they also provide a cheaper and safer option than sending in rescue helicopters in the first instance.

Using drones to deliver emergency supplies

Often after a disaster, when people need it most, traditional lines of communication and delivery are disabled. In these situations, drones can not only be used to re-establish communication between parties, but also to deliver essential items such as food, water or life-saving medical supplies to those who need it.  Whilst roads, rail and water can be transient, the air is nearly always accessible.

Drones can carry out these duties much more quickly than traditional routes, as well as having the additional advantage of keeping additional personnel away from potentially dangerous areas 

In May 2020, with the world in the grip of the global COVID-19 pandemic, SOARIZON was involved in a ground-breaking medical drone delivery trial in the Scottish Highlands. Trialling the delivery of PPE supplies and COVID test kits, we proved that delivery time could be reduced from up to six hours by road and ferry, to just 15 minutes by drone.

drones for disaster recovery

Disaster recovery also involves rebuilding areas that were affected whilst also analysing how to mitigate the effects if a similar event were to happen in the future. In the wake of earthquakes, flood or fire, drones can assist in the safe inspection of infrastructure, so that repairs can be made more quickly than if they were done using traditional methods. 

Using drones mean that repairs can also be done far more safely; measurements can be taken without anyone having to set foot on site and images of the damage can be relayed to the relevant authorities without anyone entering the fragile infrastructure. 

A good recent example of drones being used for this type of incident awareness is the Toddbrook Reservoir in Derbyshire, UK, which became unstable in 2019 and threatened to flood the nearby town of Whaley Bridge. UAVs were used by the emergency services to monitor the health of the reservoir wall and help to direct the appropriate response.

Similarly, drones are increasingly used in the construction industry to aid in the inspection of buildings and sites to help ensure safety and monitor progress. 

Using drones for situational awareness

Drones are increasingly being used to assist emergency services with situational awareness - whether that’s assessing the scale and impact of a disaster, managing traffic flow after a road traffic collision or monitoring an ongoing fire emergency. 

Aerial images from drones can help build a picture of the emergency situation, during or after the event, so that the true scale and impact of can be explored. These aerial images can be used in conjunction with existing maps, so that street and building names can overlay the aerial images to build a picture of the area, and aid with any reconstruction or additional resources that may be needed. 

Due to their speed and agility, drones are likely to be used in emergency situations and natural disasters of all kinds for years to come. Advancements in technology will only further allow UAVs to mitigate the devastation caused by natural disasters, as well as becoming an ever more valuable tool available to emergency responders all over the world.

If you’d like to understand more about how SOARIZON can help the emergency services or other disaster recovery agencies, please get in touch with our expert team.  

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