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The Applications and Challenges of UAVs in Emergency Services

The Applications and Challenges of UAVs in Emergency Services

The Applications and Challenges of UAVs in Emergency Services

The applications for drones are many and varied, but none have more societal benefit than when used by the Emergency Services (ES) in responding when we need help. Drone technology offers a number of ways to support emergency response and in the first of a series of articles about drone operations in the Emergency Services, Consortiq look at Fire and Rescue Service use in the UK and US.

The recent events at the Grenfell Tower fire in the UK have reinforced how important the job is that our fire and rescue services do and the huge challenges that they must face in performing their duties. They often must contend with complex incidents in difficult operational environments, whilst bringing to bear all their training and technology to save life and preserve property. The advent of drone technology presents them with new capabilities and challenges in equal measure, ones which need careful consideration.

An Introduction to the Areas of Application

The Fire and Rescue Services respond to a multiplicity of events such as major disasters, large building fires, Hazmat incidents and environmental events such as flooding and forest fires, and in doing so, they have a range of tools and equipment that they can call on to assist in the firefighting effort. With a fast response time and increasing sensing capability, drone technology is fast becoming an integral part of that tool set.

During these sort of incidents, an infra-red (IR) camera equipped drone can provide real-time thermal imaging to determine the location of missing persons whilst also delivering dynamic information to assist in the management of the incident. The drone delivers real time, responsive surveillance and over watch to an on-scene commander, broadening situational awareness, enabling the proportionate allocating of resources and support effective decision making. Drone capability isn’t limited to dynamic incidents; there is full range of fire prevention activity that can be conducted pre-or post-event, such as site-specific risk intelligence and fire investigation activity. 

The Challenges of Integration

For firefighters, a significant challenge is effectively integrating a drone operation into multi-levels of firefighting capability. Each firefighter is technically skilled in a variety of areas and is an integral component of a larger team effort. Thus, introducing a new capability such as that delivered by a drone requires some adjustment in the team dynamic, because being a drone pilot is another proficiency that must be learned, practiced and maintained. 

Part of these new skills involves learning new operational regulations.  In the UK, this means acquiring a Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO), in the US, a candidate is required to take a Part 107 Aeronautical Knowledge Test, both of which can be delivered through Consortiq. These enable a firefighter to operate safely and legally in the country of operation and is critical for integrating drones safely in to existing firefighting capability.

In an environment of shrinking budgets and reduced manpower, drones can supplement and support a firefighter’s duties in key areas, and drone operations bring with them several significant capabilities not previously available. The benefits to firefighting capability are considerable but drones must be employed effectively and safely in line with existing regulations. 

"Drones are emerging as a new component in the operational tool box for fire and rescues services to apply in support of their activity.  Drone technology is hugely capable, they can carry out a range of tasks bringing new capabilities to the firefighter’s tool set.  Here at Consortiq, we know drones intimately and some of our staff are serving members of the ES so we can effortlessly blend the two capabilities in helping ES customers develop their drone capability in an effective way." -Bryce Allcorn, Service Delivery Manager and Emergency Services Lead for Consortiq

Limited drone resources must be managed such that capability is consistent across all services - this is achieved by effective operational management of drones and pilots through software platforms such as Consortiq’s CQNet.

Check out our latest industry report here for Emergency Service organisations.

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