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How Drones Are Changing Natural Disaster Response

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are versatile innovations. They’re fast, powerful tools that can capture pictures and videos and even collect air or soil samples. Natural disaster drones are especially critical. They help with understanding the damage after a disaster, locating people who need help, distributing resources and preparing for the next event. 


Any location can suffer significant damage from a natural disaster. Whether the damage comes from a wildfire, hurricane or earthquake, officials must understand how things have shifted. Natural disaster drones have high-tech mapping capabilities that can help with the town or region’s damage. 

In 2015, for instance, experts used drones to map the destruction of the Nepal earthquake. These kinds of UAVs have 3D mapping abilities from image processing software. Using these images and this data, country officials could then understand the full extent of the damage. Recreating the scene wouldn’t have been possible without drones. 

Drones can also provide a clearer picture of infrastructure damage. Any kind of natural disaster makes maintenance and monitoring dangerous — workers could put themselves at risk. Flying a drone to monitor building breakdowns or gas leaks will keep people safe while experts locate issues that need attention. 

Small spaces, too, can be areas of concern, but drones can easily fit inside them. These machines’ high-quality video and photo abilities make them as useful as human observation. 

Search and Rescue

When natural disasters occur, the number one concern is to locate and save people in need. With helicopters or planes, this feat can be difficult. Natural disaster drones, though, are fast and can cover large plots of land quickly. This ability makes finding people more efficient.

Beyond their speed, these drones also have thermal imaging properties. As they fly over, they scan for heat signatures — which humans and animals give off. Then, rescue squads can act accordingly based on the data that the drones report. 

Floods, hurricanes and earthquakes are common instances where rubble and debris can trap or injure people. Flying drones overhead can also provide supplies for these individuals. Once the UAVs locate them with thermal imaging, rescue squads can transport food, water, medicine and even a Wi-Fi or data hot spot to them. 

At night, drones can still operate with high-voltage lights. These lights give clarity to photo and video quality but also signify where help is for those on the ground who need it. 

Planning and Preventing

When it comes to natural disasters like hurricanes, officials sometimes have time to prepare. They can focus on preparing water supplies so these resources will stay clean and durable, and they can evacuate citizens if necessary. First, though, drones can signify how severe a hurricane may be.

With a tough exterior, some natural disaster drones are strong enough to fly into a hurricane and collect data. During extreme hurricanes like Dorian, experts flew drones into the storm to understand wind speeds, precipitation levels, wind radius, temperatures and sea levels. This data helps a populated area plan for the disaster that’s about to hit. 

In other instances, drones can help track and stop wildfires. The camera equipment can detect hot spots or areas prone to fires. Then, once a wildfire does start, drones can fly overhead and release fire suppressants and retardants to help put it out.

The current California wildfires started toward the middle of August and are still burning countless acres in the state. Equipping drones with these retardants will help fight the fires and keep individuals and ecological systems safe.

Drones for the Future

With UAVs for natural disasters as a tool for defending, planning and mapping, locations can better prepare themselves for these occurrences. They can then better resolve the damage, too, by finding individuals and securing the infrastructure. Drones are proving themselves to be invaluable, and more fields are now likely to adopt them.