How drones boost disaster response, search and rescue

Disaster risk reduction, preparedness, response, recovery, relief and rehabilitation. These are the building blocks of disaster management. Drones help reinforce and amplify the impact of each of these blocks by 3x, 10x or even 25x. Disaster response, in particular, has seen major strides and improvement with these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones.

Let’s get some context before we move to the drone-impact in disaster response, search and rescue.

Event horizon for a disaster – How drones help to optimize disaster response

Does the word ‘disaster management’ mean the same that it did in 2019 (or before)? Covid-19 has made us aware of the one fact that we never really thought about: ‘It COULD happen to me!’

With this in mind, the urgency for proper Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), awareness and preparedness has taken centerstage. Drones have been a ‘saviour’ across the board within disaster preparedness.

However, the inherent defining point of a disaster is that it’s an event. Like any event, it has an event horizon – a timeline of possible causes culminating into the disaster (event) followed by possible actions, effects or repercussions.

You can leverage drones in many ways:

  •       Pre-DRR (surveying and mapping risk profiling and identification)
  •       And DRR (risk mitigation and disaster preparedness).

However, when there is an impending disaster, the emergency disaster response’ ‘actions’ become far more impactful. Drones help to not just optimize the response time but also boost the effectiveness of these actions. Let’s look at some of these drone-applications and their impact in disaster response.

Drone-improved emergency response time

It’s all about the reaction or response time. You can further divide this disaster response time into detection, analysis and action.

Detection – Drone-led surveillance helps with quick anomaly or change detection. These drones can alter their flight-path mid-air to investigate a suspicious occurrence. This significantly reduces the time taken to ‘spot’ a potential or apparent disaster.

Analysis – Drone-powered reconnaissance gives a first-hand analysis of the disaster point. You can read more on this at a later point.

Action – Drones incite prompt on-ground action, much faster than manual detection + analysis and action.

Drones reduce the overall disaster response time by (up to) 44.46%. This time helps reduce the extent of a potential disaster. Above all, it helps save lives.

Drone-enabled situational awareness – planning and strategy

Imagine a drone reaching the event site – say a fire ‘hot spot’. The drone quickly conducts a high-resolution visual/thermal survey – beamed back live to the ground team. The firefighters would know exactly how to plan their actions to properly utilize their resources (water, equipment, personnel, etc.) and get the desired result.

Such drone-led situational awareness would mean the difference between a contained blaze and an out-of-control wildfire. You saw this point above when we spoke of the ‘analysis’ part of response time.

Essentially, one must make the most of the limited response time. Drones help quickly scout-out the entire area, mapping out all potential bottlenecks, flare points, exits, blind spots, etc. One doesn’t get multiple chances to make the right choice. Drones help emergency disaster teams make the right decision at the right time.

On-point and fast medical and essentials supply-drop with drones

ideaForge drones are lightweight yet robust. They can easily perform supply-drop runs with medical and essential packages. Such packages are critical to the wellbeing of stranded survivors (floods, cyclones, earthquakes, etc.)

The drones are also useful in medical emergencies. In India’s capital, New Delhi, there is 1 ambulance available (active) for each 1,44,736 set of citizens. This is 30.9% divergent from the World Health Organization’s ‘average ambulance availability’ ratio. Moreover, a study showed that of all the fatalities to uniformed personnel since 1994, 25% could have been avoided with proper ‘in-transit’ care.

Drones can reach these medical emergencies in time and deliver equipment like Automated External Defibrillators (AED) to save lives and aid on-ground teams. The speed and efficiency of drone-led response can bridge the gap between resources and actual need.

Drone-led Search and Rescue (SAR)

Now to the actual rescue part of disaster response. This is where drones have the greatest tangible impact. ideaForge has been an ever-present partner for the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF). These drones have been quintessential in multiple Search and Rescue operations.

The probability of finding survivors is highest within the immediate 72 hours following a disaster. Beyond the probability declines rapidly. It’s essential to be swift and strong in these rescue operations.

The drones conduct high-res visual and thermal imaging to give a clear picture of survivors, even under rubble or within inaccessible crevices. The drones cover multiple acres quickly giving a detailed outlook of the terrain. This helps the on-ground team understand all access points and path towards the survivors. It also helps them understand the current situation in terms of communication or transport disruption.

One example of such search and rescue is from the Uttarakhand floods of 2015. The disaster had left multiple survivors strewn over the tricky terrain. On-ground disaster response teams worked round the clock to save people. However, their (manual) visual reach restricted them. The mountainous topography further accentuated the problem.

Here, NDRF deployed ideaForge drones across the afflicted area to look for survivors, even in inaccessible regions. Fortuitously, the drones help find many such survivors who were eventually airlifted out.

ideaForge drones have been part of many such SAR operations across the country. It’s a privilege to be associated with such brave disaster response teams. To know that ideaForge drones help improve the overall disaster response efficiency adds great pride to the humbling privilege.

Let’s close by rounding-off the central point – Drones boost disaster response, search and rescue. That’s a fact, Period!



October 2022

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