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Using Drones for Good: Part 2: Emergency Services

Last updated on

August 24, 2018


    In part 1 of our Drones for Good series, we looked at the work drones are doing to help conservationists preserve our oceans. In part 2 we are going to look at the important work UAVs do to support our emergency services.

    Like many other industries before them, the emergency services are starting to see the benefits that drone technology provides. Drones have the ability to get where people or other aircraft can’t reach. This makes them invaluable in a number of emergency situations, including fires, search and rescue and road traffic accidents. In fact, all of the emergency services now use drones to help them carry out their vital work.

    So let’s look at a handful of real-world examples of how drones are making life easier for each of the emergency services.

    Fire & Rescue

    West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) were one of the first fire authorities in the UK to recognise the benefit of deploying drones to help manage and monitor complex and potentially life-threatening situations.

    WYFRS have just completed a six-month trial which was aimed at proving a use case for the devices. The trial used a DJI Inspire 1 V2.0 fitted with a Zenmuse XT2 thermal imaging camera to give firefighters a birds-eye view of incidents.

    The drone was soon put to work. During its first week on the job it proved invaluable helping to contain a large scale fire in Pudsey, Leeds.

    WYFRS Area manager Nick Smith said, “One of the problems we faced at the fire was visual access to the full perimeter due to the surrounding properties and their gardens. The drone overcame these difficulties for us and provided us with an eye in the sky for the incident Commander which helps with their decision making and ultimately keeps firefighters safe.”

    The drone provides support for all firefighting scenarios

    A small team of WYFRS firefighters were trained and licensed to pilot the device. It was used in a wide range of emergency scenarios during the trial. It helped firefighters with everything from searching waterways for missing people to gathering real-time information during a fire.

    This information is critical and provides firefighters with insights they didn’t have access to before. For example, the thermal camera can be used to locate people trapped on the upper floors of buildings. This allows the incident manager to dispatch firefighters to the location much more efficiently. Footage can also be used during the investigation phase to help determine the cause.

    After proving their worth during the trail, WYFERS has decided to expand the capacity of the drone unit. More teams are now being trained and licensed to use the devices, which will soon form a regular part of firefighters’ equipment across West Yorkshire.

    Drones for Emergency Services


    Data shows that half of the UK’s police forces now use drones or are planning on implementing them in the next twelve months. The drones operate in conjunction with the National Police Air Service to provide air surveillance during all types of police operations, including surveillance, search and rescue, incident management and pursuit.

    Devon and Cornwall Police were the first force to launch a 24-hour drone unit in 2015. The specialist unit supports officers on the ground by providing a range of intelligence gathering services, including 3D mapping of crime scenes and live tracking of suspects.

    The high-definition gimbal mounted camera has also proved useful during search and rescue operations. In June 2018, the unit was instrumental in saving the life of a man who was reported missing. The “high risk” individual was spotted on cliffs at Exmouth by the drone unit, after just eight minutes’ flying time. This intervention prevented a painstaking search of the area on foot, which would have involved multiple agencies and taken hours to complete.

    This incident alone proves the worth of drones for police operations. Not only was a life saved but the whole incident was brought to a successful conclusion in just 8 minutes. The use of other emergency services such as the coast guard and lifeboat service was also not required during the search.


    The ambulance service has also started to deploy drones to help emergency crews deal with major incidents. The service’s 15 Hazard Area Response Teams (HART) are to be equipped with DJI Matrice 200 series drones fitted with Zenmuse XT2 thermal imaging cameras and Zenmuse Z30 high definition zoom cameras. These will be used to help manage emergencies involving, chemical, biological or nuclear material.

    The plan is for each HART team to be equipped with a drone to provide a vital eye in the sky during incidents. The drone will enable HART incident managers to observe the scene quickly before deploying ground staff. This information can then be used to guide paramedics directly towards those people most in need of help.

    Drones to deliver vital life-saving equipment

    Research is also taking place which could enable drones to be used to deliver vital lifesaving equipment to patients. A recent study in Sweden has proved that dispatching drones equipped with defibrillator equipment can dramatically increase the survival rates of people suffering cardiac arrest.

    When it comes to cardiac arrest every second counts. With every minute that passes from collapse to resuscitation, the patient’s survival rate falls by 10%. With the average response time for such incidents standing at 22 minutes, this results in 90% of patients dying before they get treatment. But by dispatching a defibrillator by drone, response times can be cut to five minutes. This alone should increase survival rates by around 50%.

    Search & Rescue

    There is no more efficient use of drones than using them to locate missing individuals. During a recent study by DJI, in conjunction with Donegal Mountain Search and Rescue, it was found that it took a five-person team two hours to find a victim in a single kilometre area. By using a drone, that same victim could be found in as little as 20 minutes.

    Drones can also be used to assess the condition of patients on the ground. This ensures that they get the most appropriate treatment quickly. This dramatically reduces the amount of time they are left exposed on the mountainside, greatly increasing their chances of survival.

    The latest drones can be used in all weather conditions

    The improved range and payload of DJI’s latest commercial drones also ensure they have the capacity to carry out search and rescue operations. Drones such as the Matrice 210, can fly for up to 38 minutes while carrying both a thermal (Zenmuse XT2) and aerial zoom (Zenmuse Z30) camera which can be used to locate missing persons quickly during all weather conditions.

    All Matrice 200 series drones are also designed to comply with IP43 level ingress protection. When combined with improved flight stability in windy conditions, this ensures the drone can operate in all weather conditions, including sub-zero temperatures and driving rain.


    As you can see, drones are fast becoming essential pieces of equipment for all the emergency services. The benefits to both first responders and members of the public are immense.

    They help keep costs low without compromising the safety of first responders or members of the public. They increase the capabilities of incident management teams by providing them with greater situational awareness of incidents, helping them to identify where resources need to be deployed for best results. And they can be deployed in search and rescue operations to cover large areas quickly.

    Even the examples given here only scratch the surface of the good work drones are doing to support the emergency services. DJI estimates that 65 lives were saved in 2017, as a direct result of drone operations. You can be sure that number will continue to rise in the future as more drones are rolled out across multiple emergency services.

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