An Introduction to Drones In Search & Rescue
A person is reported missing every 90 seconds in the United Kingdom, with more than 353,000 reported missing incidents every year.
Working alongside the police to tackle this epidemic are 49 volunteer organisations across the UK, each covering various terrains and landscapes. Conventional search and rescue methods have relied heavily on boots on the ground teams scouring as much area from a pinpointed radius. Now through the use of drones, search areas can be covered far more quickly and thoroughly in an attempt to find a target.
During Coptrz Con’s public safety summit we were able to speak with Nick Strelczuk, Team Leader for Lowland Rescue. Through this blog, we will unpack how drones have impacted search and rescue teams, also sharing insight into Lowland Rescue’s experience & their ever-advancing search process.
How to Use Drones for Search and Rescue
Once the rescue team is on-site, the pilot and the drone spotter will go to the centre of the predetermined search area. A support is used to risk assess the area and keep the area clear while the pilot is focusing on the search path. Examples of this would be aircraft, walkers, and the general public that may be interested in what’s going on.
The pilot will elevate to around 80 metres height and conduct a 360-degree scan of the area. They will then investigate any heat sources that appear on the thermal camera. If none are present, the pilot will do a perimeter search at 40-60 metres height, before moving on to the next area.
Upon spotting a target, the spotter will radio the foot patrol teams and guide them to the target. Once the foot patrol team is close, they should be able to hear and see the drone, and then use it as a signpost. Conventional methods would have involved foot patrol teams doing the perimeter searches themselves, and saving time when finding the target is the main focus.
A common misconception is that drones are replacing the teams going out, however, Nick assured us that this was not the case and that the different teams are trained to work alongside one another. There will be some cases where the drone can not be flown, such as rain and high wind, therefore the boots on the ground and dog teams are still vital to the search and providing first aid.
Are you interested in how drones can aid your Search and Rescue team? Why not download our FREE guide?
Lowland Rescue’s Drone Experience
Lowland rescue caters specifically between water to high hill terrains, abiding by the same standards as sister organisations, such as Mountain Rescue. Lowland Rescue currently boasting 2,079 volunteer members across 34 teams and donated 91,000 hours of service throughout 2020. Now with 46 drones in their arsenal, Lowland Rescue has seen a severe decrease in the amount of time taken on their missions. Yet despite having such a wide variety of drones now, it wasn’t always like this.
The severe drop in prices for upscaled technology has made drones far more accessible to Search and Rescue teams, especially with organisations receiving no government funding, is funded entirely by donations. Nick spoke about how even a few years ago, you would be looking up to £20,000 to buy all of the components that now make a whole kit you can buy for less than £6,000. He states:
“I think there was a mindset by a lot of older volunteers that it’s just a toy, it’s a gimmick. I think in every industry now […] people thought they were a bit of a gimmick, they now know they’re not.
When we’re collecting data and information, or researching areas that would traditionally have been done by a helicopter. I saw some numbers like last week it was £1700 an hour for a call out. It’s quite scary the cost of having that aircraft in the sky. So from our point of view, having a drone at that price is a complete no brainer now because they are so cost-effective.”
Now after using drones, Nick and his team can’t imagine going back.
If you’d like to hear more from Nick on drones in the Search and Rescue industry, you can catch his full interview below!
What is Lowland Rescue Operating With?
After initially enquiring about a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual, Nick was recommended the Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced by Coptrz Business Development Manager, Sam Denniff. Referring to the difference in quality as ‘Night and Day’, Nick says his decision was pretty much made for him after testing the two units.
The M2EA posts a 640×512 thermal imaging camera, 17x superior to its predecessor. When tracking heat signatures through woodland, the extra resolution can be the difference between life and death. Also housing a 32x digital zoom camera, the pilot can reach the 500m distance limit and still zoom in another half a kilometre to monitor the target.
With the M2EA now having a 30 minute flight time per battery, Nick’s team upgraded to the Coptrz FlyMore Kit, giving them an additional 2 batteries among other add-ons. He notes that after using your additional batteries, you’ll be able to revert to the first battery used as it would have already fully charged, which can be crucial to getting your unit back in the sky for long search missions.
Citing the spotlight as his favourite bolt-on, it can be used not only for target location and sign-posting for boots on the ground personnel but also to light the scene, allowing the staff to focus on first aid treatments, rather than fumbling around with flashlights and head torches. “You really will be surprised by how bright it is and how little it affects flight time”.
If you’re interested in hearing about how drones can aid your Public Safety business, contact our business development manager today!