Using Drones in Search and Rescue Scenarios. First Impressions from the Trimodex Exercise

As part of the Initiative on “Drones in Humanitarian Action”, FSD in partnership with CartONG and Entente Pole Nouvelles Technologies, the host of Trimodex II, tested the use of drones for search and rescue scenarios during the Trimodex European Simulation exercises. In the past, drones had been used in similar exercises but mostly for media purposes. This exercise marked perhaps the first time that drones were integrated into the operational aspects of a Search and Rescue simulation exercice.

Search & rescue (SAR) is a topic that immediately comes to the mind when thinking of the use of drones in the humanitarian field, whether it is to locate victims or plan the interventions of rescue teams. However, very few conclusive field missions have been conducted so far on the topic, and even fewer documented. Most experiences were simulations in the United States, Australia or Europe, by industrialized countries’ local civil security bodies to locate missing persons. These tests were quite different from (major) humanitarians emergencies.

SAR with drones therefore appears to be a use for drones that has been insufficiently documented in relation to the interest it generates among the humanitarian community. The reason for it is quite obvious: SAR only intervenes at the earliest stages of emergency deployments when rescue teams have the least time for integrating new technologies and running tests. SAR is in fact highly codified and planned to ensure optimal impact despite the complex framework of emergency responses.

During the scenario we looked specifically at the ability to use drones to provide a) situational awareness for rescue teams working around buildings, to help locating victims using thermal cameras and to post-process imagery for use by engineers for building inspection.

The following clip shows an excerpt of imagery taken with a thermal sensor mounted on an MD-4100.

Arnaud from ECASC and Patrick, the pilot posing with the MD4-1000 provided by OmniSight before the flight.

Patrick, the pilot and Arnaud from ECASC posing with the MD4-1000 provided by OmniSight before the flight.

 

The eXom by SenseFly is circling the cite to produce a map of the work area.

The eXom by SenseFly is circling the site. The eXom has the ability to switch between thermal and visual sensors during the flight.

The use of drones was integrated in 2 out of the 24 exercise sites at Trimodex II and the Croatian and French Squats made use of the drone outputs.

Croatian responders are using our maps that we created with drone imager.

Croatian responders are using our maps that we created with drone imagery.

Planning the next day's rescue activities.

Planning the next day’s rescue activities.

The dogs are ready to go

The dogs are ready to go

Before the official beginning of the SAR exercise, the eXom was tested indoors.

CartONG, SenseFly and Omnisight comprised our drone team in pink gear.

CartONG, SenseFly and Omnisight comprised our drone team in pink gear.

In fact, pink turned out to be a very good colour to distinguish drone operators from other rescue personnel.  That way we could easily be found if a specific need arose.

In fact, pink turned out to be a very good colour to distinguish drone operators from other rescue personnel. That way we could easily be found if a specific need arose.

The main outputs were maps, and video live feed in both thermal and RGB imagery. In addition, a 3-D model with the eXom imagery was made of several housing structures that will be further post-processed by CartONG and analysed with engineers to determine how this imagery can be useful for structural inspection in disaster settings.

The team is working on an evaluation report to understand if and how the drone outputs were useful and how to focus future activities. The report will be published here once available.

This field exercise took place with the support from DG ECHO and with the technical support and piloting skills from SenseFly and Omnisight.