Drones for disaster relief – Did you know that drones can provide disaster relief in scenarios we call ‘Acts of God’? Here’s how.
Technology foresees what humans cannot
In 2017, the Amarnath Yatra was flagged off at the Yatri Niwas base camp in Jammu and Kashmir. The CRPF had set up various medical camps along the way. To top it all off, the drone “NETRA” was flying overhead and relaying real-time data of on-ground situations. We see this as one preventive example of drone applications in disaster management.
It might seem strange to include such cutting-edge technology in something as sober and traditional as a pilgrimage. But when you’re responsible for the safety of hundreds of pilgrims who are 12,000 feet high on a mountain, you will reconsider your security options.
The Amarnath Yatra is a fine example of using drones as a preventive security measure. The CRPF has quicker and wider access to the ongoing events down below, enabling them to be more effective in reaching out to the right place at the right time.
Imagine if the situation was not as straightforward. Imagine something untoward did happen. Imagine the day after the Uttarakhand floods or the Nepal earthquake. A search and rescue operation for a large population cannot always happen with the aid of a few Disaster Management personnel. When ideaForge began building drone applications for disaster management, they resolved some critical things that any disaster management team would need in the world. They kept the worst use cases in mind and designed this application.
Making disaster management effective
Using an unmanned aerial vehicle for disaster response means accessing areas that are invisible and unreachable even by foot. Firstly, finding survivors in the worst affected areas becomes possible. Rescue workers are not able to save several missing or injured people because of limited visibility, or because the areas where they are stuck are rendered inaccessible due to the disaster. Maybe heavy rains are making it impossible to see or hear them, or maybe they’re trapped under layers of debris which can not be safely assessed by personnel on foot. Drones have complete freedom in their movement and can easily reach such restricted spaces for search and rescue operations, and are also much faster in conducting the search operations.
As clinical as it may seem, it’s possible to ‘see’ human bodies caught under debris or in other difficult places right after a calamity. However, with a thermal imaging camera, a drone can help identify people who are alive and they can be rescued immediately. Using thermal imaging systems also improves the capacity to conduct search and rescue at night time as well. Due to the increased risk in these places at night, they have to often suspend operations for several hours due to safety concerns for the relief workers themselves, but with drones that concern is removed and several hours of operation are added which can prove crucial in time-sensitive situations like these. This is the most necessary action that makes disaster management effective with ideaForge devices.
When there were floods in Karnataka’s Kodagu, or the more infamous flash-floods in Uttarakhand, some areas became inaccessible due to landslides. Specifically, in the Kodagu region, ideaForge partnered with the local authorities and flew drones for a period of 2 days only to assess what kind of disaster relief was required. From the southern Kerala border to the edges of Mangalore, ideaForge’s NETRA and Q Series drones mapped out which tribal areas were affected the most and whether roads and other infrastructure were still accessible to rescue those people.
Land surveying using drones has several other applications as well; you could create real-time maps of the affected areas using aerial photographs and stitching them together, which could give valuable information on the current lay of land and which areas are safe to move through and which to avoid. Drones can even perform structural analysis of roads, buildings, and other structures, giving the rescue workers a lot of usable information which is the most essential thing missing from disaster management without drones.
Once the requirements on the ground are assessed, rescue operations can be planned. At this point, a great question to ask is if drones can be used for disaster recovery. If rescuers cannot reach certain locations, what can drones do to help? In some cases, if there isn’t a way in, there could still be a way out. An unmanned aerial vehicle could lead stranded people to safety by providing them with directions. This could be so even when there aren’t enough people to reach out to in time, and drones have to do the job on behalf of the rescuers.
In the past, ideaForge has worked with the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). For NDRF personnel, it is unthinkable to cut corners during a time of crisis. Despite achieving the unimaginable while rescuing stranded people, they are still constrained physically in many ways.
NDRF personnel have since then been trained in using UAVs and they work closely with ideaForge in times of disaster. The Kodagu floods would be one such case. Drones that are used for disaster relief not only provide a vantage point to view the ground from, but they are also equipped to carry medical supplies to places that cannot be reached by NDRF personnel.
UAVs are truly the way forward to ensure that no stone is left unturned in the preservation of life during disasters.
Search and rescue missions are successful when they’re swift. India’s National Disaster Relief Force is the biggest task force in the world that is meant for the said purpose. Even then, speed is of the essence.
Rescuing with UAVs and then, without.
How many times has there been inaccurate information about the situation on the ground during disaster rescue? With UAVs, there can be rapid spot checks that provide accurate information which can be made available to the public. This would provide relief to those who rely only on the information provided on toll-free hotlines.
For ground forces to have enhanced capabilities, the ideaForge Netra V Series UAV can cover a radius of 4 kms each with a speed of up to 36 kmph. That means about 50 sq. km. can be covered in the same time it takes for 20-25 rescue workers on the ground. The force-multiplying capacity of drones has major implications in the sense that help can reach a lot of people before the situation worsens and the rescue workers have to deal with harder situations which could have been avoided. And of course, help reaches a lot of people who would otherwise have not even been discovered by traditional searching methods.
In primary school geography, we learn that India has all kinds of terrain- mountains, valleys, plains, plateau and coastal regions. With the deteriorating state of the environment, climate change, and the resulting calamities that are being induced, disasters can be rampant and unpredictable in scale. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and it is often not straight-forward.
One of the most effective ways in which we can stay ahead of irreparable damage is by giving ourselves a tactical edge via drone technology.