Eyes in the sky for EMS


by Dan White

Imagine if a ScanEagle had been available during Katrina. It could permit the clever separation of Search from Rescue. It could be in the air early and look for stranded rooftop victims. Then larger passenger helicopters would not be risking lives and wasting fuel looking for people.

You could first fly the UAV to search for those most needing immediate evacuation, and then the rescue helicopters would fly straight to their next high priority victim.

It looks like FEMA or municipalities can contract with these organizations to put a team on the ground in 24 hours. This could be an ideal way to affordably have “eyes in the sky” available during an MCI or disaster.

The two big hurdles to wider domestic use of UAV’s are regulation, acceptance, and pilot training. The FAA is currently working out regulation to allow civilian use of UAV’s in the USA.

The next challenge is acceptance. Some states are already proposing regulations to ban UAV’s. In my state of Missouri they are concerned about surveillance and privacy, so they are trying to ban UAV’s, perhaps without a full appreciation for their potential value. Oregon is looking at doing the same thing.

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  • Says a lot for the narrow-mindedness of some folks, who are willing to legislate away the use of such useful technology in order to assuage the fears of the folks who don't understand it.

    If there is already a law against peeking through windows, then apply that in cases where it's needed, and don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Any other privacy concerns should be directed at those same people who make these rules, as they're pretty surely going to continue to use remote cameras to keep an eye on the rest of us.

    Of course, I'm preaching to the choir here. :)

  • Ravens were available for Katrina... The FAA just would't let them fly. They pulled the wings off and duct taped them to the side of helicopters. :-(  

  • Jack...the pilots would have to be integrated into the effort. Obviously, government owned and piloted UAVs would be included in a response plan. Amateurs may be able to be included through groups such as CERT which have the framework in place to incorporate trained volunteers into relief efforts. I am currently working with a local emergency manager to embed RC amateurs into CERT teams, and may be only one spring storm away from actual in-field experience. And, mind you, I have worked in the emergency services myself for nearly two decades, currently as a contingent federal response worker, so I am not just a starryn-eyed dreamer. I was boots-on-ground two days after Katrina, and have used that event as my goto when thinking about UAVs in disaster situations.
  • The reality of RC pilots driving into disaster areas to get within XBee range, medevac copters navigating swarms of Easystars after a disaster, & DJI flamewheels crashing into survivors was a different story.

  • Just look at the case in Los Angeles where the LAPD said they were going to clamp down on anybody doing AP.  Word on the street was the Boom Operators Union felt threatened, so they talked to somebody in the LAPD...

  • Exactly my thoughts^^^^^.   It all boils down the the dollar.  I remember my first "rescue" mission.  Took me 3 minutes to find a lost plane in 40 acres of woods.  No doubt RC is faster, more reliable, easier.......I can go on and on........

  • I think a bit part of this issue is that this is Disruptive Technology.  This technology is threatening to the jobs, and profits, and people and companies that make a lot of money doing things the old way.   I think they are working the backrooms to create much of this Fear Uncertainty and Doubt.

  • I met a guy shortly after katrina that works for Fema,  He's a retired helicopter pilot and he was very interested in me because he thought it was a great idea to use RC vehicles to help during time of disaster.  One day he just suddenly stopped showing interest as if it were strings being pulled from somewhere else.  I think I scared someone.  Acceptance is the biggest issue as im ready to search and rescue right now.

  • Moderator

    I don't know how many times I've heard the same kind of argument FOR uavs illustrating their potential during individual emergent situations such as lost hiker or missing child.  It's obvious to us that use of uavs to augment traditional search methods only adds to the chances of successful recoveries in all kinds of landscapes and situations.

    These situations is what got myself interested in UAVs.  I look forward to the time when I can volunteer my services and equipment to assist with locating of someone's missing family member or loved one.

    I believe Thomas is right, with shrinking budgets and governments need to do more with less, UAVs will become part of the picture.  I'm not sure all counties or municipalities will purchase their own when qualified volunteers are available to assist, which is good for us who want to give back.

  • Admin

    With shrinking government budgets for emergency services, they might be forced to begin to use UAVs in these roles to help cut costs.



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