Drones in Disaster Response: Harnessing the Potential of Unmanned Aerial Systems
The Role of Drone Technology in Crisis Management and its Impact on Communities
In the wake of recent devastating earthquakes in Japan, the question arises: how can the drone community be best leveraged to respond to communities in crisis? This is not the first time drones have been deployed in disaster response. They were first recognized as a valuable tool during Hurricane Harvey in Texas. During this disaster, drones were used for damage assessment, providing real-time information during extremely volatile incidents, and even spotting people in need of urgent help.
Since then, drones have been widely adopted by first responder organizations. These Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs have introduced a new paradigm in public safety. Drones may now be stationed at strategic locations throughout cities, ready to be dispatched immediately when an emergency call comes in. They provide real-time intelligence that can help officers avoid an ambush, know the direction in which a fleeing suspect ran, or add nuance to their understanding of the situation to help them decide whether an officer is needed at all.
Drones in Disaster Management: Leveraging the Full Range of Solutions
However, while these organizations have embraced the use of drones and are ready to deploy in the face of a crisis, they may not be able to access the full range of applications that drones can provide to respond quickly to an emergency. This includes delivery of critical goods and supplies, which has proven to be invaluable in disaster response scenarios, as seen in the recent earthquakes in Japan: or the use of specialized aircraft for search in collapsed buildings, like those used after the Surfside Condo Collapse or the earthquakes in Turkey.
The Japan Times reports that the Japanese UAS Industrial Development Association (JUIDA) has called upon its members to assist with response efforts through collaboration with the Ground Self-Defense Force’s 10th Division. So far, drone delivery operators have successfully provided medicine delivery, surveyed areas that might be appropriate for building temporary housing, and provided diesel fuel to workers handling heavy equipment needed to restore a road in Wajima blocked by a landslide. Members are also flying drones to evaluate the extent of the damage. Except for work provided to the government, all of the work has been provided pro-bono. Many companies, including Aeronext, Next Delivery, ACSL and Drone Operation, have participated.
The value of drone technology is clear. It can be better distributed with all of the different applications being leveraged, perhaps through partnerships like that between JUIDA and the Ground Self-Defense Force’s 10th division.
It’s extremely important to note that individual pilots should not respond without the coordination of an embedded organization, as they may risk interfering with ground or manned aircraft operations. Coordination needs to happen in advance, so that all parties have time to establish the appropriate communications and operational protocols to integrate response efforts effectively.
The potential of drones in disaster response is vast. As we continue to explore and expand these capabilities, we must also ensure that they are used responsibly and effectively. The drone community stands ready to assist in times of crisis, but coordination and cooperation between industry groups and first response organizations are key to maximizing their impact. This is a pivotal moment for the drone industry, as the technology is ready to scale for commercial applications. The challenge now is to harness this potential and ensure that it is used to its fullest extent in service of communities in need. The “drone army” as it was called in earlier disasters is more than just a collection of machines and pilots; it’s a force for good, ready to respond when disaster strikes.