American Red Cross, Measure study UAVs for disaster relief

By Emily Aasand | April 27, 2015

The American Red Cross and Measure, a 32 Advisors Company, released a study detailing how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can help first responders and improve disaster relief efforts. The work between the two groups focused on three areas: policy recommendations, use cases, and platforms, payloads and software.

The report details how drones and the aerial data they collect can be used before, during, and after a disaster and includes an overview of potential solutions and deployment models.

Drones can provide needed aerial data in areas considered too hazardous for people on the ground or for manned aircraft operation, such as sites with nuclear radiation containment or in close proximity to wildfires. Drones also have the ability to deliver needed supplies and relay Wi-Fi and cellular phone service when communications are needed the most.

“Drones provide significant benefits to first responders, enabling them to expedite disaster relief efforts,” said Justin Oberman, president of Measure. “We have a unique opportunity for companies and governments to save lives and rebuild communities by using drone technology. Drones can be effective and efficient tools for humanitarian purposes; we need the right blueprint in place to help realize the potential of drones as a tool for good.”

Work on the report began in November 2014, and in the succeeding months, Measure has worked with the report’s sponsors and the American Red Cross, hosting weekly progress calls. In early 2015, the team met with state emergency management office staff in several states to discuss the agencies’ past drone use, determine alternate uses for drones in disaster relief, and consider deployment models.

Project sponsors included Guy Carpenter & Co. Inc., IMB Smarter Cities, Insitu/Boeing, Lockheed Martin, UPS, USAA, Willis Group and Zurich North America.

“Seeing firsthand the excitement from emergency responders about the potential use cases for UAVs was wonderful, but seeing their concern about the issues standing in their way was eye opening,” said Perry Hartswick, IBM corporate distinguished engineer. “Beyond the logistical issues, making sure the information collected becomes actionable intelligence is critical to making a safer planet.” 

In March 2015, Dr. Robin Murphy at the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue and her team successfully tested and demonstrated the capabilities of drones in a chaotic post-disaster simulation. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration-approved trial flights and evaluated the accuracy and ability of drones in assessing damage to buildings and infrastructure.

This report is an important first step in moving drones for disaster response and relief operations from promising technology to a game-changing reality, Measure said.

“The Red Cross’ study highlights yet another valuable use of unmanned aircraft systems: disaster relief. This report calls attention to the need for the FAA to develop policies that would help both the government and nonprofit organizations take full advantage of this technology in an emergency,” said Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). “AUVSI urges the FAA to create a policy to allow for the rapid approval of UAS use in emergencies in order to reduce red tape in the event of a disaster.”

“As has been demonstrated following the Fukushima nuclear accident and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, UAS can help relief workers to quickly and safely respond to disasters,” Wynne added. “Whether it is searching for survivors, helping provide firefighters with situational awareness or delivering medical supplies, UAS can help save time, money and, most importantly, lives in the crucial period following a disaster.”


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