Saving Lives and Keeping First Responders Out of Harm’s Way
April 19, 2022
First responders have a tough job. They respond to dangerous calls and sometimes only have time to prepare enroute. Usually there is not a lot of information available during their response. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, are the game-changers. UAS act as a force multiplier and provide invaluable situational awareness for personnel on scene and remote incident commanders.
UAS are Portable and Powerful Tools for Public Safety Agencies
UAS take up little space in a police cruiser, fire apparatus, or command vehicle – easily stowed in a backpack or small rugged case. They take only seconds to set up and deploy and provide an overwatch, or bird’s eye view, of the area – as well as performing ground-level informational missions to gather detailed intelligence for on scene commanders to make more informed decisions.
One of the most dangerous situations for police is an armed subject barricaded inside a building. In this situation, a UAS can provide assistance to the police in various ways:
- It can fly directly over the area of interest in an overwatch capacity, providing valuable information from their tactical vantage point (i.e. suspect’s location, children in the area, pets in the area, difficult ingress/egress points, assisting in establishing and maintaining a secure perimeter).
- It can fly the perimeter of the structure at low levels gathering further information (additional persons inside the building, floor plan and layout of the inside areas, outside door hinge positions for breaching purposes).
- It can fly indoors in support of tactical entries and building searches, allowing officers to assess the situation ahead of them. Additionally, it can “perch” inside the building maintaining a view of an area already secured, watch in a different direction providing additional eyes for the tactical unit, and listen to hear of approaching danger not yet visible.
It is wildfire season across much of the U.S., and this is a scary time when the plains and mountains are full of dry fuel. When a fire inevitably does ignite, a UAS is an invaluable tool for firefighters and first responders. Manned aircraft cannot fly over wildfires at night as the darkness makes it too dangerous to fly over the flames. Due to this precaution, it is extremely difficult to obtain real-time information regarding what occurred with the fire during the night (hot spots and the direction the fire is moving). UAS do not have this same restriction and can provide intelligence for the suppression of the wildfire during the hours of darkness.
When firefighters are looking at a two-dimensional landscape on paper, it is difficult to establish the best plan of attack, especially in determining which routes are open to access the fire. UAS can provide a real-time video feed of the exact movement pattern, location, and size of a fire. It can also provide the safest and fastest routes out of the warm and hot zones in the event there is an urgent need to evacuate.
Search and Rescue
In years past, aerial search and rescue (SAR) operations were completely in the realm of local first responders, namely law enforcement manned aircraft. However, there are a few detriments to using manned assets:
- Extremely expensive to operate
- Puts the manned crew at risk
- Centrally located means it takes time to get to a location
- Limited availability due to higher priority requests and inclement weather
- Manned aircraft operate at high altitudes and much higher speeds
A first responder can deploy a UAS almost immediately upon arriving on location. UAS can fly much lower than manned aircraft, have payloads with incredible zoom capabilities, can transmit a live video feed to command leadership, and can utilize various sensors and cameras, such as thermal imaging to help locate missing persons. Also, first responders can operate more than one UAS in an area allowing them to search faster and provide a much more tactical approach. An added benefit is that multiple eyes can watch the live video feed simultaneously, increasing the chances of a successful mission.
The potential for a rapidly deployable UAS is almost limitless. Even though UAS have been utilized for the last decade, as they become mainstream in the arsenal of public safety, we are just now beginning to scratch the surface of their potential. For first responders, UAS are proving to be one of the most useful assets in their tool belt. Whether responding to barricades, assisting in the suppression of wildfires or structural fires, or searching for missing persons/fleeing suspects in the wilderness or urban areas, UAS put an eye in the sky where aerial assets were once not an option.