Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2015 Vol. 62 No. 3

Using Drones for Search & Rescue


They are in the parks. They are in the media. They are on the front lawn of the Whitehouse. Drones! And why shouldn’t there be one in your toolkit as a public service professional?

Technically and officially these “unmanned aircraft” or UA offer many advantages right down to the individual level in many agencies. These advantages are starting to be realized as civilian use of UA for aerial photography and other data collection are being proven on a daily basis.

Consider that the Department of Homeland Security has determined the cost savings at a ratio of 10 to 1 over manned aircraft operations. Does this signal the end of the beloved Jet Ranger helicopter as a first response asset?  Not even a little.

To be certain, the military is looking at full-scale assets that can be converted to “unmanned” status and have successfully used them to ferry cargo. It will be some time before a drone will have the capability to pluck a victim from a mountain top or flooded river. That responsibility will rest squarely on the shoulders of a human pilot at the controls of a machine that has the capability to perform that time honored feat.  

The one thing a UA can do, however, is provide the ability to locate and assess the situation quickly, with little risk to another human, reducing the exposure and liability of sending a full-scale aircraft on the tedious and dangerous task of flying a grid pattern of a search, often in conditions that are hazardous to both machine and aircrew. Unmanned aircraft are unique in that they can provide the power of aerial assets to smaller agencies that have had to rely on larger municipalities and organizations that can and would provide them with mutual aid during disasters.

Drone flying

This technology has been described as a disruptive technology. Similarities can be drawn to the advent of the personal computer back in the 80s, cell phones in the 90s and smart phones with cameras and video in the new millennium. All of these were considered disruptive technologies in their advent. The predictions of lost jobs, privacy intrusion and other mistrusts have either not come to pass, have been proven incorrect or have been adapted to quite readily.

There will always be legalities to be challenged as any disruptive technology is initially introduced initially, and we are in that phase now—trying to figure out just what is the most acceptable use of these new-fangled flying machines. Emerging now is the widespread acceptance of unmanned aircraft use for tasks such as search and rescue, brown cloud assessment, hazmat containment and other duties that directly affect the health and safety of not only citizens but those who serve them.

The future of this technology is going to quite literally take off and become a true force multiplier for a broad range of clients. And we will all benefit from its use.

Follow this link for an excerpt from Gene Robinson’s book, Tijuana Kidnap and Ransom – Mexican Department of Public Safety.

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