How Emergency Managers Use Drones to Manage Crises
Can drones change the way we manage crises? Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully flew the first aircraft in 1903 at Kitty Hawk. Back then, commercial air travel was just a whisper and a dream, but today we have aircraft that don’t even need a pilot onboard. Just 10 years ago, the first Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) made their way into the skies. Often called drones, UAVs have been used in military, recreational, industrial, and now emergency management settings.
History of Drones
Unmanned aerial vehicles have existed in some form since 1918 when the U.S. military used “cruise missiles” in combat. However, non-military, commercial-use drones first made an appearance in 2006. Public interest in drones skyrocketed in 2013 when Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, indicated he was considering using drones as a delivery method. From there, other drone-enabled technologies have emerged, such as motion tracking, thermal scanning, 3D mapping, and facial recognition.
Over the past few years, people have acquired various patents for drones, making technological advancements in a number of fields including agriculture, construction, media, mining, private security, real estate, law enforcement, and wildlife conservation.
Today, the total drone market is valued close to $10 billion.
Using Drones to Manage Crises
The aforementioned industries aren’t the only ones taking advantage of what drones have to offer. Emergency management departments around the world are implementing drones to increase safety for many people and sites. Here are just a few ways drones are being used to mitigate crises.
- Assessing hurricane damage. Hurricane Harvey, one of the most expensive tropical storms ever, wreaked havoc mostly on the Houston, Texas, metropolitan area. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved 43 drone operators to assess damage and assist with recovery and rescue efforts. They also banned personal drone usage, fearing they would interfere with helicopters and organized rescue efforts. The drones helped officials assess damages along railroad tracks, around oil and energy companies, and on various roads and bridges.
- Locating surivors and missing persons. Drones, especially those equipped with thermo-imaging cameras and microphones, are useful when searching for survivors of natural and man-made disasters. Last year, officials used a drone to locate an 81-year-old woman who got lost in a cornfield. In 2016 during Hurricane Matthew, a drone operator located families stuck in remote flooded homes and informed local authorities so they could put together a rescue team.
- Delivering emergency supplies. Drones can also be used to safely deliver emergency supplies to remote or dangerous areas. For example, a company called Zipline delivers medical equipment such as blood transfusion supplies, emergency vaccines, HIV medications, anti-malarials, sutures, and IV tubes to people in Tanzania, Louis Ziskin writes for Urgent Communications. “Millions of people across the world die each year because they can’t get the medicine they need when they need it,” Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said. “. . . But it’s a problem we can help solve with on-demand drone delivery. And African nations are showing the world how it’s done.”
- Extinguishing fires. Firefighters sometimes must use aircraft to combat fires from the air. Enduring high temperatures, limited visability, and other dangerous conditions can put them at risk of death and injury. Unmanned aircraft, like drones, are able to drop fire retardants safely and accurately without risking lives.
The Future of Drones
These are just a few ways drones have been used to combat crises. Growing technological possibilities will likely open even more doors for further implementation in the future.
The commercial drone market might increase to a total value of $82 billion and create 100,000 jobs by 2025, according to Business Insider.
Note: Before implementing drones into your crisis plan, be sure to assess the risks and rewards for your facility or site and ensure you are abiding by all local, state, and national UAV laws put in place by the FAA and other governing bodies.