Drones for Humanitarian and Environmental Applications


Drones in Humanitarian Action

“Drones in Humanitarian Action” is an in-depth analysis of the role that drones (also known as UAVs or RPASs) can play in humanitarian crises. It is based on two years of research as well as multiple stakeholder consultations.

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Case Study No. 12: Using drones in fire and rescue services in the United Kingdom


Type of system: Aeryon SkyRanger
Deploying Agency: Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service
Piloting Agency: Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service
Dates of Deployment: July 2015 – Present
File: Download

The Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) added a drone to its emergency response toolkit in July 2015. The primary objective was to improve the safety of personnel. The GMFRS are one of the world’s first Fire and Rescue Services to have adopted an around-the-clock drone capacity to respond to a range of crises, and they appear to be motivating other fire departments across the United Kingdom to do the same.


The Aerial Imagery Reconnaissance Unit, known as the AIR Unit is the only one of its kind in the United Kingdom and possibly in the world. The AIR Unit responds to incidents on a nearly daily basis, from aerial imaging of incidents to carrying out search and rescue with thermal cameras.

To determine if a drone would add value to the firefighting teams and gauge whether or not it was possible to justify the cost, the GMFRS began by running an initial trial with a drone and a few trained pilots. The GMFRS initially had temporary contracts with drone companies to lease equipment. Firefighters were trained to operate the drone and analyse the data collected. (more…)

Case Study No. 11: Simulation: Using Drones to Support Search and Rescue


Type of system: albris, eBee, MD4-200
Deploying Agency: CartONG/FSD
Piloting Agency: Omnisight, Drone Adventures
Dates of Deployment: February 2016

File: Download

A three-day emergency response simulation tested the use of drones in support of search and rescue operations in a hypothetical country affected by a severe refugee crisis while being hit by a hurricane with subsequent flooding and landslides. The test showed that drones were of limited use in this simulation but that they have potential to become part of the emergency response toolkit for very specific tasks.


The Trimodex 2 exercise was a three-day emergency response simulation sponsored by the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (EUCPM), organised by the Dutch crisis management firm Trimension and hosted in France by Entente Valabre[1]. 316 participants including five search and rescue teams from six countries attended. The aim of the exercise was to provide a hands-on learning opportunity for various search and rescue and civil protection teams from across Europe. Trimodex 2 also allowed participants to implement agreed standards of cooperation in civil protection interventions and to improve how civil protection entities work together in disaster response. (more…)

How Drones Can Help Improve Refugee Camps

In September 2016, CartONG and the Swiss Foundation for Demining (FSD) participated in a six-day training and simulation for 13 staff of a large international organisation that is involved in the planning and management of refugee camps. The training assumed a rapid influx of refugees with up to 7,000 people in need of shelter. Large parts of the training focused on familiarising participants with the Autodesk software.

As part of the simulation CartONG and the Swiss Foundation for Demining (FSD) provided a demonstration of using mapping drones. The aim was to use drones as a tool to derive aerial imagery to help plan a settlement design on 1.8 km² of  land that had been designated to house the fictitious refugees. CartONG was asked to provide the participants with aerial imagery, a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) and a Digital Surface Model (DSM) of the area. These files were originally produced by CartONG in Pix4D but could be imported into the Autodesk suite. (more…)

Mapping Drones in Humanitarian Action: Meeting Summary Report

With funding from DG ECHO, FSD is spearheading an initiative on Drones in Humanitarian Action in collaboration with CartONG, Zoï Environment Network and UAViators. The objectives of this meeting were to provide a progress update on the use of drones in emergency response, to discuss new case studies and to consolidate findings and outputs. The overall aim of this initiative is to provide humanitarian organisations with a roadmap for the effective and safe integration of this technology in support of more efficient and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance.
A 2-day consultation meeting was convened on the use of drones for mapping in humanitarian contexts. The purposes were to:

• Offer a platform for constructive discussion to take stock of how drones and related technology are useful in creating maps in humanitarian contexts
• Identify how best to adopt and roll out this technology for humanitarian organisations
• Discuss the way forward, including next steps towards safe, effective and efficient integration of drones for mapping in humanitarian work

The 40 participants included technology experts and representatives of humanitarian NGOs, governments, donors and two drone manufacturers. The results of this discussion will provide the basis for a Guideline Publication on the use of mapping drones in humanitarian action, which will be published later in 2016. Case studies covering past drone deployments in humanitarian contexts were provided as background reading for the meeting (see Annex I).


Survey: Most humanitarians favour the use of drones in disaster zones

Drones are one of the most controversial technologies in disaster response operations. To find out what exactly humanitarian aid workers think about the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) with funding from EU Humanitarian Aid has now published a survey. 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.

The survey shows 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%) 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 as part of the EU Humanitarian Aid funded initiative “Fostering the Appropriate Use of Air-Borne Systems in Humanitarian Crisis” so far. As part of that initiative, FSD, in partnership with the Zoi Environment Network and CartONG, is currently collecting 16 case studies ranging from mapping, to de-mining to transporting medical samples. Nine of these case studies have already been published and can be found here.

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 infographic below. The complete survey can be downloaded here.

Infographic - Survey: Drones in Humanitarian Action



Drones in Humanitarian Action is partially funded by DG ECHOThis website covers humanitarian aid activities implemented with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of the European Union, and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

Drones in Humanitarian Action is partially funded by DG ECHO. This website covers humanitarian aid activities implemented with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of the European Union, and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.