Drone Search and Rescue Effectiveness

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The use of Drones(UAV’s) for Search and Rescue operations has been a controversial practice in the past few years as the Drone world has become a more popular area of technology. The usefulness is an obvious positive when you look at things like, manpower constraints, the amount of area you can cover, the risk of personnel on the ground covering rough terrain and most of all the lack of willingness to find volunteers.

A little background into my past, I spent 11 years as a Firefighter Paramedic for a combination fire department servicing 3 cities and approximately 50,000 people. I was a career Firefighter Paramedic for six years before it took a toll on my body and was forced to retire from a back injury. In the 11 years I successfully obtained, ISO-100, 200,300,400,700 and 800 training in the National Incident Management System, spent 6 months obtaining my EMT-B and 2 years obtaining my EMT-Paramedic. We responded to Hazardous Materials spills, both residential and commercial fires, primary ALS response for medicals in 3 cities as well as mutual aid to 2 counties in MN and one in WI. Needless to say, I understand how the Incident management system works, the need for safety when it comes to SAR and the ability to quickly locate a person or persons in bad weather with minimal resources.

Now that you know my history I want to touch on how drones can be utilized wisely as well as what should be avoided to keep everyone safe. The use of Drones to complete a search and rescue operation can be done correctly with the proper equipment, operators and cooperation from local, county and state officials. A drone operator and team can cover a large area and do an initial search very quickly, covering up to 40-80 acres in less than an hour with a two man team(Operator and Spotter/Assistant) taking high quality video and pictures. If the drone team sees abnormal findings, a person, clothing, dark spots, heat signatures, etc. the coordinates can be relayed to Incident command and a ground search of the smaller area can be done. With applications like Drone Deploy, Autopilot amongst just a few, they make grid searches consistent, safe and logged so everyone knows which areas have been covered and which need to be searched again. That same 40-80 acres that would likely take a drone team about 20-30 minutes would take close to a hundred volunteers, personnel or search teams over an hour to cover depending on terrain, obstacles and conditions, not to mention the wear and tear it takes on the people searching. With that being said you can see how drones can be utilized to save time, money and possibility of personal injury.

The setbacks of Search and Rescue with Drones, obviously you have weather, battery life, mechanical failure and pilot limitations of safe flight. The number one thing a drone team or pilot should never do is self deploy to an incident, one you have no communication with incident command and two you don’t know what resources are out there, whether it be an actual drone team, people on the ground, helicopters in the area, etc. Much like what happened with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina when all of the departments, search teams and civilians self deployed to the area, it overloaded incident command with people and confused searchers, personnel and agencies that were asked to respond. Self Deployment is always a NO. The way you can obtain the ability to be called out is forming a team, talking to state, county and local officials, be licensed by the FAA and you should be covered by an insurance policy to cover any negligence or injury caused by your drone. Once these steps are taken if there is a search and the agency decides that Drones would be a viable option they will activate the resource with pre-determined means and utilize that resource after they check in with incident command. I highly recommend that after a team is formed and all of the above have been met, you set up a large scale training with agencies to show them your capabilities and limitations as well as finding out what their needs are. Most of all you don’t need to be a HERO, trying to be a hero only puts everyone at undo risk!

As weather permits I will be doing a test of the various applications to see what ones are most effective for which types of searches and posting my results here. I had planned on doing it this weekend but we had a large storm come through and it limited the ability to fly. Please feel free to comment and or get ahold of me if you live in Minnesota and want to be part of a SAR team. I am currently working on putting a team together, board of directors, call out means and talking with agencies in my immediate area to work out the details I explained above. I hope this helps anybody that is thinking about getting involved in the SAR community.



Ben Mair

Owner-Code 3 Solutions


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