In the last of a series of articles focusing on drone usage within Emergency Services (ES), we focus on operations in support of emergency management activity. At a national and regional (state) level, several agencies exist to address disaster management prior, and in response to, events such as forest fires, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, oil spills and even earthquakes.
These agencies aim to build, sustain and improve the capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all natural events. Drones are one of the new technologies contributing to this effort and at Federal and State level some Emergency Management Agencies (EMA) - but not all - have been exploring the possibilities of integrating this new capability into its overall operational effect.
The benefits that drones bring to these events are multi-dimensional. Being lightweight systems in a sector where time is a precious commodity, they can deploy rapidly and provide an on-scene assessment of a damaged area with dynamic real-time data fed directly in to an emergency operations center. This information gathering starts to immediately build a picture which can help the command level achieve a quick appreciation of the size of the event to answer key questions such as, ‘how big is the problem?’ and ‘how do you scale the response?’.
As the rescue and recovery activity builds, drones provide a responsive, ‘birds eye view’ which assists in coordinating ongoing operations, allowing commanders to determine where to move assets, at what time and with the correct equipment. Finally, drones can conduct mapping and survey flights to determine the scale of damage through change detection techniques, thereby assisting in reconstruction activity further down the line.
In an environment beset with fiscal cuts, State, Local and Emergency Management Agencies are increasingly looking for ways to supplement costly manned helicopter assets. Drones provide an immediate response capability to emergency responders at a fraction of the cost, although they cannot yet provide the recovery capability that helicopters have.
There are some challenges to the adoption of drone technology in this arena. Public perception is a huge hurdle to overcome and will need time and education to demonstrate the benefits that drones bring. Additionally, there are cultural hurdles to clear for decision makers in the Emergency Management Agencies. There is a resistance to new and, yet, unproven technology and whilst helicopters are still widespread throughout the EMA’s, the use of drones is currently limited. This will continue until the agencies pioneering drone use can clearly demonstrate that they are safe and effective tools to support the operational activity. Finally, as is the case in other emergency services, operational policies for drone use need to be developed and refined and effective training needs to be delivered and maintained.
Another unintended and unwelcome consequence for EMAs is the use of drones by well-intentioned but misguided members of the public in support of the humanitarian effort. John Fernandez, Instructor at Consortiq: ‘Whilst this activity is commendable, it also presents genuine issues for EMAs as they have to manage uncoordinated drone activity which may prove a hindrance or even a real threat to safety. This activity should be left to the professional agencies as they conduct their vital work.’
For drone use in the future landscape, there are some interesting developments such as the emergence of Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) operations. Bryan McKernan, US Operations Director for Consortiq: ‘Allowing BVLOS operations will enable EMAs to fully implement drones and utilize them to the maximum extent possible, which ultimately will reduce risk and increase their operational capability’.
Through its broad experience in drone operations, Consortiq is well placed to support development in this area and has several products and services tailored to appeal to EMA clients. Find out more about drone use in Emergency Services here.
At the time of writing, Hurricane Harvey has caused significant damage to the Texas coastline and EMA’s are active in using drones in support of the humanitarian effort. Consortiq wishes to express its full support to the rescue and recovery agencies as they go about their difficult work.