Citizens with drones can help fighting natural disasters

It was not by chance that drones became the gadget of the year in 2014. By then, thousands of units were being sold worldwide with prices ranging 30€ to 30,000€ and big electronic retailers were reporting huge surges in sales. Now, a few years down the line, this trend has continued in the rise and drones are a relatively common leisure for taking pictures and shooting impressive aerial videos. However, did you know they can also be used to fight disasters?

After Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, an unprecedented number of drones patrolled the skies to aid in the humanitarian response. Thanks to this, a much rapid mapping of the affected areas was possible, which was essential to setting up humanitarian base camps, detecting the most affected communities, locating victims in need of help, and assessing the state of infrastructures for transportation, among others.

The importance of drones in disasters is that they provide a quick view from above of the affected zone. For decades, this information was only obtainable using planes for aerial photos, or satellites, which have a number of limitations including cost, data sharing restrictions, cloud cover, and the time needed to acquire images. In contrast, UAVs can provide a bird’s eye perspective quickly, if people are at site, and at a far higher resolution and at much lower cost.

An additional key aspect is that drones can also offer a view that is not perpendicular to the ground. For instance, when assessing damage after the disaster, whereas satellite vision allows seeing if a building has a roof but not if it has four walls, oblique vision from drones can answer this question and many others that require more three-dimensional information.

But overall, the biggest advantage is that, unlike satellites, citizens can own UAVs and this means that disaster-affected communities can participate in response to a crisis. Now, after major disasters such as the Philippines typhoon, but also the Haiti earthquake, these countries have taken the lead in involving citizens and there is a growing number of grassroots initiatives to teach local people to operate their own drones in emergencies.

At the I-REACT project we believe in the potential of citizen participation in disaster response at European level and we are developing an app that will allow connecting emergency professionals and drone users. Our partner AnsuR is leading this task to allow decision makers at control centres to request and conduct flights over affected areas, both from amateur and professional drones, in case of floods, fires and extreme weather events. This ways, they will be able to assess and ensure the relevance of the images while drones are still flying.

In order facilitate the engagement of volunteers from local areas, AnsuR is building a database for drone volunteers who potentially can be involved in the event of an emergency in their area of operation, and creating a efficient system for communicating the images they capture. This way, any European citizen from local communities can become an integral part of the fight against disasters, improving rescue operations and protecting their communities.

If you own a drone and would like to contribute, drop us a line and join us in quest for a more resilient future!

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