Drones For Disaster Recovery: Realistic Potential or Just Ridiculous?

Drones For Disaster Recovery: Realistic Potential or Just Ridiculous?

July 12

The drones are coming. But do they come in peace? That all depends on who’s deploying them. The same manless flying vehicles used controversially in attacks against Pakistani militants and consequently some civilians also have several non-violent applications, including disaster recovery.

Drones, similar to the occupied helicopters used by law enforcement and emergency response teams, can provide a comprehensive view of the scene on the ground and even direct responders to where help is needed. Unlike those manned choppers, they can be useful in hot zones and other areas where human intervention would be dangerous. For example, a drone could help gather vital data and even search for survivors in an area exposed to a nuclear accident.

Drones in Action

The U.S. Air Force used a drone to assist with the Haiti relief efforts following the earthquake that rocked the Carribean country in 2010. A vehicle called the Global Hawk took hundreds of photos of the ravaged landscape, one of which land crews used to find and assist victims. Canadian police in Saskatchewan used an automated Draganflyer X4-ES helicopter to pinpoint the location of a man whose vehicle had flipped over. The man was found almost frozen in a remote area and may have died from his injuries if he wasn’t treated quickly.

Whether it’s assisting a single individual or providing relief for tens of thousands of civilians, drones have a broad range of uses for disaster recovery. However, there are a few roadblocks that must be cleared before they become standard tools in domestic relief efforts.

No Drone Zones

The no fly zone is not only inconvenient when you feel the need to blast off on your own personal aviation missions. It could also leave drones grounded when it comes time for disaster relief. The tornado that tore through Moore, Oklahoma earlier this year littered the area with so much debris that it made navigation by foot or vehicle difficult. While law enforcement and news helicopters were useful in collecting valuable information, their noisey propellers masked the cries of survivors who were trapped and pleading for help. As a result, the entire affected area was ruled a no fly zone, which appears to be why the Central Oklahoma division of the Red Cross chose not to deploy drones.

The Privacy Dilemma

Whether it’s advertising, social media or apparently disaster-aiding drones, privacy concerns always seem to crop up. Some privacy buffs are freaking out over the thought of drones flying onto civilian properties and conducting surveillance operations in Joe Blow’s backyard. It should also be noted that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations prohibit the operation of any aircraft that could endanger someone’s life or property, which is a big reason why only three law enforcement agencies in the U.S. currently have permission to fly drones.

It will probably only be a matter of time before drones are regularly aiding police and first responders in disaster relief efforts. Even a member of the Red Cross says the organization plans to use them more often, stating that it’s merely a matter of the right time, right place. So like I said, the drones are coming. But coupled with their questionable use in the battlefield and the current privacy debacle the government already has on its hands, snooping on cell phone conversations and whatnot, whether their assistance is embraced by the public remains to be seen.

What makes a good disaster recovery plan? Well, it’s all in the details.