HomeOfficials Hope to Utilize Drones For Search and Rescue
By Paul Nelson
Many believe the sky is the limit for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technology, including right here in northern Nevada, where drones are being tested. Warren Rapp is the Business Director of Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovative Center. He says using UAVs in search and rescue missions would be a huge step for law enforcement agencies.
“It’s a great way that you can, whatever weather condition, just about, take small-sized drones with thermal cameras or regular cameras and start searching for somebody almost immediately,” Rapp said.Along with cameras, Rapp says drones can be equipped with radios or phones that can be dropped off to lost people, once they are found. That would help communication during the rescue operation, until help arrives. If someone is stranded in Lake Tahoe or Pyramid Lake, a UAV could even drop off a flotation device for that person.
Officials with Washoe County Sheriff’s Office agree, and are hopeful to put drones to use in the area’s mountains and desert.
“When someone is lost, particularly out here in the wilderness, this time of the year with the temperatures and all that, the sooner we get them, the better,” Bob Harmon, WCSO Public Information Officer said.
The Sheriff’s office does not use drones yet, and is waiting until they make an investment on the equipment and training.”Right now, where we’re at is trying to get a better feel as to where the regulations are going to go, what the laws are going to be, here in Nevada, and how that’s going to impact the way we can operate these drones,” Harmon said.
There have been instances where people have asked private drone owners for this type of help. The family of Betty Jean Fernandes recently asked Emory Peterson if he would use his UAV to help search for the 72-year-old Sparks resident, who went missing November 30.”I can imagine if anybody’s mother was missing, myself included, I would do anything possible to find her,” Peterson said.
Unfortunately, Peterson says using a drone would not be very effective in this situation, simply because the Fernandes’ family has no idea where she is. Since drones are limited on distance and time, Peterson says it he would be of more help in an airplane.”Maybe a 5-10 mile radius or something to that effect, but if someone’s driving a car and could be hundreds of miles away, they would be almost searching for a needle in a haystack,” Peterson said.
Peterson says drones would be a great tool in smaller areas if the general area of a missing person is.”You probably use a 4X4 and a drone, you could cover all sorts of ground in a day,” Peterson said.Experts in the field of UAVs say many industries are already using drone technology, including mining, agriculture, and wildlife. While most American ski resorts have banned the use of drones, he says each company could utilize them in their own search and rescue operations.
“Perfect area to employ a drone and try to utilize that. For avalanche control, a lot of times, just a visual of a ridge before people actually go up there and they put explosives and what not would be very beneficial,” Rapp said.
It is unknown when federal and state regulations will be in place, but Rapp says there is growing interest. In April, NAASIC plans on holding a Search and Rescue Symposium in Reno. The goal is to meet with law enforcement, fire, and paramedic agencies to show them what capabilities drones could have in their operations.