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A fast, efficient response system – that doesn’t put any further human lives at risk – is of paramount importance when any type of disaster strikes.
This is especially crucial in countries such as Australia that face a large number of natural disasters and emergencies. From bushfires sparked by the searing heat to unpredictable cyclones, emergency response teams in such areas need to ensure they stay on their toes at all times.
Fortunately, technology is playing a huge part in boosting the efficiency and safety of response operations. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in particular, have been emerging as crucial tools in assisting emergency services in times of disaster.
Development is still being carried out – including in Australia – to explore the further potential for UAVs in disaster response. As these examples illustrate, UAVs will have an ever-increasing prominence in this area in the future.
Delivering humanitarian aid in Haiti
The massive destruction that Hurricane Sandy wreaked in Haiti two years ago is a prime example of the need to deploy fast-response emergency services to isolated areas, without endangering more human lives.
SenseFly, a Swiss company that manufactures UAVs, carried out a series of missions last year in several locations around Haiti that were damaged by the hurricane. In a major win for the company and the viability of these machines, the drones were able to successfully carry out a series of critical tasks to demonstrate they’re fit for the purpose.
The company revealed that they covered more than 45 square kilometres in under a week, creating 3D maps to identify the most at-risk hotspots. A number of shantytowns were also scoped to assist with the census of the area and help distribute aid.
Upon completing the missions, the firm noted the cost-effectiveness of the operations, as minimal personnel, space of equipment is required.
Australian university trials drone-led fire forecasting
A top Australian institution was recently in the spotlight after it led research on the use of UAVs in bushfire prediction and management.
Dr Thomas Duff, who heads his team at the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre at the University of Melbourne, said that timely processing and modelling of data is crucial when attempting to forecast the paths of bushfires. As human-led efforts usually aren’t quick enough, drones could provide a feasible solution.
Drones can be deployed to collect critical data on weather, temperature, topography and a host of other metrics to accurately gauge the risk of a bushfire, Dr Duff explained. Such machines also have the ability to measure sensitive information such as how dry grass is and calculate the level of fire risk.
Are there any challenges to overcome?
Despite the obvious advantages and opportunities that UAVs present to emergency response operations, a number of hurdles must be overcome before they can be widely accepted.
The first challenge is likely to be related to the negative connotations that drones still hold, as they have traditionally been used in the military sphere. Once UAVs become more mainstream and awareness grows around their civilian uses, this could be mitigated.
Privacy concerns still exist surrounding the use of UAVs, as much of their work involves aerial scanning, mapping and image capture. This could possibly be a significant reason behind the current reluctance of governments to allow their widespread use.
Other regulations, mainly surrounding the use of airspace UAVs would entail, are holding back these machines from taking off – but should they be passed, drones will certainly have a huge role to play in emergency response in the future.