HAZON Solutions lists UAS crisis response lessons learned

By Patrick C. Miller | October 10, 2017

Experience flying unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the wake of the Hurricane Harvey and Irma disasters provided HAZON Solutions with a wealth of knowledge that the company says can be applied to future emergency situations.

Based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, HAZON sent crisis response teams to Texas following Hurricane Harvey and to Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The company uses small UAS for inspection operations and also engages in training, capability development, drone safety and testing programs, and research and development.

In the interest of helping the UAS industry continue to improve, HAZON offered lessons learned from its experience, noting that while UAS have shown they “can add immense value in any number of crisis scenarios, they are also equally capable of hampering response efforts and creating additional safety concerns.”

The company said that any organization wishing to assist with disaster response must do so responsibly. This means preparing in advance, coordinating with appropriate authorities, having standards and processes in place for safe operations at a high level and communicating effectively.

HAZON Solutions offers UAS operators the following advice:

Safety: Shortening, eliminating or deviating from safety procedures should be avoided unless a thorough risk analysis has been conducted. Operators should resist the tendency to move faster by deviating from established procedures and installed processes designed to maintain a high level of safety and effectiveness.

Standard operating procedure: An effective crisis response should be based on the same procedures used during everyday drone operations. Basic procedures shouldn’t change. Routine flight operations provide a framework to fall back on when they become reactive to a crisis.

Advance preparation: To ensure reliability, equipment should be maintained to the highest standards. Aircrews must be trained to ensure proficiency. Training, exercises and practice missions should be conducted at an offsite location using all the gear that will be deployed. This improves the chances of adding immediate value when arriving at the scene of a disaster.

Slow down to speed up: In crisis response situations, the natural sense of urgency must be controlled to avoid derailing helpful UAS operations. To remain efficient and effective, spend the time—even extra time—to follow normal operating procedures. Cutting corners or circumventing standard operating procedures increases the risk to the overall mission of sustained flights to support recovery efforts.

Stay within your comfort or safe zone: During a disaster response, it’s not possible to prepare for every situation that will be encountered. Resist the temptation to operate outside of legal and safety constraints. Managers should be responsible for developing and providing thorough, well-understood and updated standard operating procedures. An emergency situation is not the time to experiment or make it up on the go.

Unmanned doesn’t mean unmanned: Drones might be unmanned, but they’re operated by people. Therefore, UAS operators should have a non-flight safety program that’s as robust as their UAS flight safety program. To demonstrate their experience, maturity and ability to fly in a crisis response situation, operators should pass a thorough pre-flight checklist that includes proper training, rest, nutrition, hydration and proficiency.