Author | Kohl Parrott
What in the world do I mean when I say the word, “drone”? A drone is an unmanned aircraft, and they are more formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or unmanned aircraft systems (UASes). The aircrafts are typically controlled via a remote control and can also fly autonomously through a pre-set flight plan. Drones typically are equipped with GPS, infrared sensors, and 4K cameras, just to name a few of the technologies onboard a drone.
In recent years, drones have been commonly associated with the military as weapons platforms. Drones are now also used in various roles in the private sector ranging from verifying insurance claims, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring, filming Hollywood blockbusters, firefighting, drone-based photography and videography, agriculture, and even delivery services.
The increase in use of drones commercially is estimated to boom by more than 6,000 percent by the end of the decade according to Bloomberg.com. It is also reported by consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP that the global market for commercial uses of drone technology, currently estimated at about $2 billion, will grow to around $127 billion by the year 2020.
WHAT DOES THE DRONE INDUSTRY HAVE TO DO WITH EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT THOUGH? THE ANSWER IS SIMPLY, A LOT!
Let’s start with the one that probably comes to mind first. Search and rescue. When a large-scale disaster strikes, it is likely to cause a vast amount of damage to infrastructure. In a large-scale disaster, this damage not only affects that community’s infrastructure, but most important, the safety of the citizens in that community. Search and rescue operation teams may need to be deployed to protect those in the community whose lives are at risk immediately.
Aerial search and rescue efforts can be an extremely costly endeavor with traditional fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. The utilization of small, highly maneuverable drones support search efforts in many situations for a fraction of the cost in risk and resources. Each of these drones have the capability of utilizing high resolution video cameras, as well as first person view to survey each area. Drones have the capability to be your eyes in areas that may be inaccessible to search and rescue teams. Drones can aid in conducting damage assessments, bridge assessments, and safety inspections, all of which reduces the risk of human injuries. Once a subject of interest is located, the exact location can be relayed back to the ground crew for extraction via onboard GPS. With the new utilization of thermal imagery, this use of drones continues to provide more and more benefit to search and rescue operations.
Another way to consider drones in the field of emergency management is for the utilization in damage assessments. It is vital when conducting a damage assessment to accurately report and document the extent of damage for use in gaining a Presidential Emergency Declaration. Again, it is very costly to utilize fixed wing aircraft and helicopter services to do this type of work. Not only is the fuel for fixed wing aircraft or helicopters reason alone to utilize drones but in these types of vehicles, the occupying personnel are also moving at a higher rate of speed and likely to not be able to capture as much information as they could if they had longer periods of time to operate in that area, as they would with a drone. Utilizing drones for damage assessments allows for a larger area to be covered and filmed in high definition video imagery at a fraction of the cost. The drone pilot simply needs to return to base and swap out a battery to get back into the field. The average flight time on a drone at sea level could range from 25-30 minutes. With enough batteries, this would allow the operator to provide services all day long. Vastly improving effectiveness of damage assessment operations.
So, you haven’t been hit by a disaster and your community has no need for immediate search and rescue or damage assessment services. You may be thinking that drones have a respective place in the field of emergency management, but your community has no real need right now. That is where you are wrong. Drones have another great benefit to add to the field of emergency management. Documentation.
Per FEMA, “FEMA staff should review pre-disaster maintenance or inspection reports to verify pre-disaster condition and to assess eligible disaster damage for facilities that require routine maintenance to maintain their designated function before allocating any money for recovery”. If your community does not have the documentation needed to prove that all damage was indeed caused by the disaster and not a result of pre-existing conditions, then your community could be left without the needed recovery funds from the FEMA public assistance program. Drones can be utilized to fly over key infrastructure to document pre-disaster conditions via video and image capture either annually or right before a known storm to ensure that your community has the necessary documentation for FEMA. This could be key to thousands of dollars, if not more in some situations.
The benefit of drone services in the field of emergency management can clearly be seen at this point. These three examples are by no means the only ways drones can be utilized in this field. As the years pass by more and more benefits to drone services will continue to come to light. To operate a drone for any of these purposes it is important to note that pilots must be certified by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA). It is important to make sure that when your community is procuring these services that you are contracting with a professional who is legally allowed to operate for commercial purposes.
I am currently undergoing the licensing process at this moment and should be licensed to operate an sUAS for commercial purposed by the time you are reading this post. This means that CDR Maguire will have a licensed sUAS pilot to conduct these services very soon. Procuring drone services like these typically ranges from one hundred and fifty to three hundred dollars an hour for field work with an added fee for video and image editing after all field work has been completed. Relatively inexpensive when considering the benefit that these services can provide.
If your community or another you know would like to benefit from this service, or would like to hear more about drone services in the field of emergency management then please contact Kohl Parrott at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you. Stay safe out there.
LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW YOUR ORGANIZATION CAN BETTER PREPARE FOR DISASTER. LET CDR MAGUIRE PROVIDE A FREE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT ASSESSMENT.