Drones in Emergency Situations – Part I

July 6, 2023


How can we use drones in emergency situations to improve recovery time, focus efforts, and save lives?

Drones in Emergency Situations - Part I

Flooding. Earthquakes. Fires. Landslides. Mass Casualty Incidents. Eruptions. Avalanches. Some events are preventable while some are unavoidable. Regardless each has the opportunity to utilize uncrewed aircraft to view, triage, locate, identify, or assess without putting others in harm’s way. How can we use drones in emergency situations to improve recovery time, focus efforts, and save lives?


 Eyes in the Sky

The first and most important thing to establish in an emergency situation is situational awareness – understanding what you should expect, what the lay of the land is, and strategically planning next moves. Without proper information, situational awareness can be severely lacking and dangerous to both victims, first responders, and rescue crews. Without an aerial vantage point, radios and line of sight are the only way to provide situation response and direct teams. Drones provide not only situational awareness, but also offer precious insight for directing in-field teams. In one Mass Casualty Incident scenario, a team of primary care paramedic students found that deploying drones for field triage and casualty evacuation resulted in a “significant difference” in prioritization while maintaining the 100% identification rate of traditional ground teams.[1] After the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey in Houston, TX, uncrewed aircraft were launched to provide an accurate map of the floodwaters and other hazards across the community giving police and rescue teams the ability to map out access routes and reach people faster. Cheaper than a helicopter while maintaining mobility, drones provide that valuable vantage point of “eyes in the sky”.


Going Where People Can’t

In March 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was impacted by a devastating tsunami that hit Japan. The damage resulted in a dangerous amount of nuclear material to be released into the surrounding area. Drones were deployed to monitor radiation exposure and to assess the extent of the damage – minimizing the risk of fallout exposure for relief workers and rescue teams.[2] In September 2017, a simulation study of search and rescue in an avalanche scenario showed that drones not only could cover over 62% more terrain than ground teams, but also locate and reach victim in less than 9min – a significant time savings from the median 57min it took a ground team.[3] Drones equipped with methane or thermal sensors are able to detect victims much faster than traditional methods and when 15min is the average amount of time available for rescue in avalanche situations, every moment counts! In July 2022, a young teen was swept out and struggling among strong waves off a beach in Valencia, Spain. Lifeguard units were able to dispatch an uncrewed aircraft to pinpoint and deliver a flotation device just in time to save the teen from sinking and kept him afloat and alive until a team could reach him.[4] Although this is just a small sample of success stories, it shows that from day one, drones have proved their value at quickly reaching places where human teams cannot. Imagine the deployment opportunities of delivering emergency supplies to stranded victims or being able to track wildfire hot spots and relay that information to firefighters. The goal is to replace the element of danger to a human operator with the use of a tool that can accomplish the same while keeping their pilot safe.


Whether it be the first vantage set on a scene, a critical viewpoint in search and rescue, or the added value of sensors to aid in understanding terrain and topography, drones are invaluable in emergency situations. However, a crucial component to understand is that the only way for aircraft to be safe is for the operator to be safe as well. Training is key to being able to utilize drones to their maximum benefit and to safely aid in disasters or accidents as an aircraft can just as easily be a hazard in the field. MissionGO is proud to offer top-rated and best-in-class training and consulting for uncrewed aircraft crews or teams looking to build out an UAS program. We have trained scores of emergency responders and commercial agencies and would love to understand your needs to help you best deploy and utilize UAS in your missions. Contact us today to learn more!



[1] Comparison of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Technology Versus Standard Practice in Identification of Hazards at a Mass Casualty Incident Scenario by Primary Care Paramedic Students. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29382398/

[2] Drones Assess Containment Vessel Damage at Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Plant. https://www.techbriefs.com/component/content/article/tb/tv/31925

[3] The potential use of unmanned aircraft systems (drones) in mountain search and rescue operations. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28928001/

[4] Drone saves 14-year-old from drowning on a Spanish beach. https://www.reuters.com/world/drone-saves-14-year-old-drowning-spanish-beach-2022-07-25/