What aid workers think about drones and how they want to use them

Over the next months, Droneblog will feature a series of case studies that show how drones are already being used in disaster response operations worldwide. The case studies were produced under the leadership of the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) and with funding from EU Humanitarian Aid.

To kick-off the series, here are the results of a survey that shows what humanitarian aid workers think about the use of UAVs. In total, close to 200 disaster responders working in 61 different countries took part in what is the first comprehensive survey of how humanitarian professional view drones.

Despite being considered to be a fairly controversial technology, the survey results show clearly that a substantial majority of respondents (60%) believe that drones can have a positive impact in disaster response operations, while only less than a quarter (22%) see their use negatively – at least when used following natural disasters. The opinions shift significantly, when asking about use of drones in conflict zones. Here, humanitarian workers are sharply split: while 40% stated that drones should never be used by humanitarian organisations in conflict settings, 41% said they would consider using drones even during armed conflicts.

Interestingly, a majority (57%) of the respondents said that they believe that the local populations feel threatened by drones – even in non-conflict environments. However this perception is not backed up with the experience that FSD has gathered while collecting data for the case studies in the field so far.

Most survey respondents saw a very real potential for drones to assist in humanitarian response operations, particularly in situations where drones can be used to create maps, monitor activities, support search and rescue operations or deliver cargo. However, humanitarian workers also stressed that drones need to be able to provide a real added value compared to existing technologies.

The survey also showed that much more needs to be done within the humanitarian sector to build knowledge about the advantages, disadvantages, capabilities and limitations of drones. The vast majority (87%) of respondents said that they did not have first-hand knowledge of using drones. Many of them explained that they were looking for guidance and needed experience to make the best use of the technology.

As drones become more affordable and widespread, there is no question that UAVs will become more and more common in disaster zones. The results of this survey show that more needs to be done to better understand the added value of drones and to provide humanitarian organisations with practical guidance on how and where drones should be used.

Key figures of the survey are summarised in the following infographic. The complete survey can be downloaded here.