Disaster response relies on robust information and efficient action, and for good reason. Lost minutes and lost lives go hand in hand when people are uprooted and thrown into the new, terrifying reality of a cataclysm. To save lives, disaster responders must be able to take informed action to counter overwhelming odds, and UAVs have the potential to be an important enabler in this regard. Rescue Global has seen this potential up-close in critical situations worldwide.
“Our mission is: To Save Life. We do this by empowering decision makers at the nation-state level working in the Disaster Risk Reduction and Response (DRR&R) environment”, explains Rescue Global CEO and founder, David Jones. “We also conduct liaison, mentoring, training and disaster reconnaissance missions during the critical response phase, deploying to disasters worldwide.” Rescue Global is a charity, non-profit and international non-governmental organisation that helps those battling extraordinary adversity. It supports nations affected by disasters, and its training programmes and mentorship are highly valued in the international community.
“We assist complex disaster response command and control operations in direct support of nations impacted by disasters” David explains, “as well as providing a reconnaissance and assessment capability, in order to gather vital information which may otherwise be difficult or impossible to collect.” One of the ways the Rescue Global teams do this is by using UAVs in the Critical Response phase of a crisis. UAVs are increasingly capable on long-haul missions, and their flexibility and intuitive control systems are prized amongst disaster response teams. The organisation identifies three factors that make them effective support tools: “They gather intelligence before we deploy staff, providing data that informs our decision-making. They maintain situational awareness of the activities of our own teams, enhancing team safety. And they take pictures, which can be used to generate heat maps of various types.”
One of the situations in which these features were of value was in a 2013 crash test in the Mexico desert. Rescue Global led the group that deliberately aimed a 727 plane at a chunk of sun-bleached hardpan, one of the most audacious safety experiments ever attempted (so much so that Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel US documented the process). Apart from making sure that no-one entered the crash site beforehand, “[Rescue Global] also used the UAV to recce the aircraft once it had crashed. We discovered that an engine was still on full power and had fuel lines attached which could rupture. We therefore held teams back and fought the fire before allowing anyone to enter.” With the reduced risk factors to teams through using UAVs, workers could monitor results from a distance, form a clear picture of the wreckage, and take appropriate action.
The organisation and their partners were also involved in the 2015 Nepal earthquake response. Following the disaster many UAV operators independently deployed drones to survey affected areas. There was, however, a number of near-misses and one collision between a drone and manned aircraft. Rescue Global calls for universal risk management practices for UAVs, to be enshrined in training and doctrine, which respect a country’s host culture, and the humanitarian context of their use. Additionally, they want actual data to be recognised and applied in real-time to operations as standard industry practice so as to enable informed action. Mission parameters, policy and realistic testing conditions can, and should, guide smart UAV data towards its full potential. When lives and livelihoods are at risk that is no small matter.
David Jones, CEO of Rescue Global, will be speaking about their use of UAVs at SkyTech 2016, at London’s Business Design Centre on the 27-28th January: www.skytechevent.com
By Joshua Potts