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Drones Vital to Effective Emergency Response in Disaster Zones

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【Summary】Like autonomous vehicles, drones have the potential to enhance a myriad of essential services – from last-mile deliveries to law enforcement surveillance and emergency services.

Michael Cheng    Mar 13, 2019 6:00 AM PT
Drones Vital to Effective Emergency Response in Disaster Zones

Like autonomous vehicles, drones have the potential to enhance a myriad of essential services – from last-mile deliveries to law enforcement surveillance. In the emergency services sector, quadcopters are already being leveraged to improve the quality of operations, resulting in increased survival rates for victims.

According to a report from Wabash Valley (Vincennes, Indiana), drones have become vital to local fire-fighting initiatives and locating missing individuals in disaster zones. The types of quadcopters utilized to support such services are heavy duty, typically equipped with accessories uncommonly used by mainstream drone enthusiasts.

Emergency Drones on the Rise

Data from the New York Police Department suggests roughly 900 state and emergency response groups across the country are using drones to boost operations. This figure is expected to grow in the coming years, as the technology continues to mature and becomes less costly to implement on a large scale. Furthermore, fleet management must be improved to cater to multiple quadcopters operating in emergency sites.

"Emergency services are using technology to shorten response times and improve the chances of saving lives and preserving properties. As more entities start using drones, new applications are emerging all of the time," explained Randall Warnas, Global sUAS Segment Leader for FLIR.

Feedback from local fire departments, including the Wabash Valley Fire Department, highlight ground-breaking use cases for quadcopters. During emergencies, fire fighters deploy drones to get a quick view of the scene. Moreover, when combined with robust attachments, the units fly out to drowning victims in the water and drop off life jackets, while waiting for rescue teams to reach the location.

The use cases mentioned above are past experimental stages and trials. They are currently being utilized in live, emergency scenarios and disaster zones. From a regulatory perspective, when compliance with Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) guidelines become less stringent, quadcopters will play crucial roles in saving lives in disaster sites.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) actively supports the application of drones in the following segments: restoration of critical infrastructure, incident analysis, fire-fighting ops, disaster recovery, military and more.

How Do Drones Function in Disaster Sites?

One of the most interesting aspects of drones is their versatile features. In addition to cameras, the units can be equipped with speakers and microphones to facilitate two-way communication with out-of-reach victims, which could be civilians trapped under compromised structures or injured climbers unable to reach checkpoints along a trail.

The use of infrared lights further expands the capabilities of quadcopters, allowing such units to view heat signatures and operate in low-light conditions (at night). Infrared technology, does not rely on bright lights for illumination. Instead, non-visible beams, ranging between 740 nm to 940 nm – depending on the application, are projected at the target area to support image-capturing with cameras.

"It's a great benefit when you're looking for a (person's) heat signature of 98 degrees when the ambient temperature is 60 degrees. Something like that is going to stand out," said Byron Prather, Fire Chief at Opelika, Alabama.

"Ten years ago, it wasn't available. That's technology helping us do our job better."

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