We’ve looked at WHY drones are useful for the emergency services over in Part One, so now we need to consider the specifications required to make sure your drone is up to the job. It’s a daunting prospect, as there are so many different types of drone, camera, sensors, and software – but this summary will help!
How Do I Choose The Right Drone For My Emergency Service Organisation?
Now we get to the good stuff, and here’s where we call in the expert: Andrew Griffiths, Managing Director of DroneFlight, has been helping emergency services use drones for years.
“Technology should not lead your choice, you need to understand the usage scenarios for your drone, the deliverable data, the operating environment and your process for integrating with it – without this you will invest in the wrong equipment.
“As this is a relatively new area for the emergency services, you need to run trials on real exercises to understand what kit works in your context and if this is a technology with a real solution for your problem. This will help you understand what is possible and clarify what you really need and what you don’t.”
What Are The Key Usage Scenarios I Should Consider When Buying A Drone?
We’re glad you asked! As a quick guide, when choosing a drone for your emergency service team, make sure you’ve thought about the following:
– What weather conditions does it need to fly in? (Clue: as many as possible)
– How often will it be used?
– How transportable does it need to be? (Hint: as drones must be kept in eyeline of the pilot, we’re going to suggest the answer here is ‘very’).
– Will I need to use thermal imaging?
– Are any survey tools such as LiDAR a necessity for my emergency team’s role?
– How do I need it to integrate with existing communications technology?
– Does it need to carry more than just a camera – will my team be responding to potential gas explosions, environmental disasters, or search and rescue operations?
Thought it was all about a simple video feed? Nope! A drone for emergency services needs to have the capabilities to integrate with your existing systems for superb joined-up communications. From secure WiFi to body cameras, your drone needs to work in harmony.
Andrew Griffiths explains: “[Droneflight] have managed to integrate the Altura Zenith into Primetech’s MultiNet Comms integrated communications system. This platform consists of Ka band mobile satellite broadband/mobile backhaul communications, local highly resilient and secure COFDM WiFi and radio, and integrated body cameras, all of which are contained in self-powered cases that fit in the back of an estate car. There is also a system that is built into a custom trailer. This system enables us to arrive at a location and provide live data from the drone to anywhere in the world within 15 minutes.”
Payloads: Not Just Cameras
While drones need to carry at least one camera to be useful to emergency service teams, you’re likely to find other payloads of importance too. This includes items such as gas or radiation detection sensors in the case of suspected explosions, to help prevent further problems or put workers at risk in a hazardous situation. You can even fit UAVs with LiDAR technology – if it can handle the payload (which the Altura Zenith can. Just saying).
A more robust UAV will have a greater payload option – meaning more technology can be used on the drone.
Which Camera Do I Need?
At the very least you need to ensure a visible spectrum camera is fitted (that’s a bit obvious but we thought we’d throw it in there for good measure). Many emergency services also choose to add option such as thermal imaging cameras – or go for a dual option such as the Dupla Vista which takes thermal and visible spectrum images simultaneously.
Is An Automated Flight Drone Best?
No. We suggest you look at fully training your pilots to be able to handle your UAVs in all flight-worthy conditions in a semi-automatic or, ideally, manual mode. In a usual scenario, a semi-automatic flight enables the pilot to intervene with the plotted flight path on a whim – ideal for emergency situations where things can quickly change – whereas an automated flight will be slow to change.
Why do we say to learn how to fly manual? We’re not saying your drone will break, but accidents happen: if your UAV loses a rotor or two mid-flight, a skilled pilot can safely handle it back to the ground without risking a crash. Plus, if GPS drops out, a skilled pilot can still handle the drone mid-flight until the GPS is restored.
And Finally: Training
Speaking of skilled pilots, it’s not really a good idea to get just the basic training to fly a drone. Anyone can do this, but it won’t train you or your team on the platform you’re using. The best thing is to go on a type-specific course that teaches you how to skilfully and safely handle your drone in most situations, as well as providing your CAA drone pilot’s license.
With thanks to Andrew Griffiths, Managing Director, DroneFlight