Locating lost or injured people in hazardous and threatening environments continues to be a challenge for emergency services around the world. Earthquakes, wildfires, landslides, and similar environmental disasters are difficult for ‘on-foot’ personnel to navigate. Deploying helicopters and airplanes in these circumstances can prove costly and dangerous.

A variety of initiatives are taking place worldwide using drone technology to assist in search and rescue efforts. The platform of choice, most often, hails from drone specialists DJI.

For example, the European Emergency Number Association (EENA) has undertaken a year long project using DJI aircraft with the disaster response community, focusing on how drones can be effectively deployed to save lives in emergencies.

Initial data from the project found that the work of a traditional 5-man crew on foot that took 2 hours to complete could be achieved by a drone crew within 20 minutes.

“The project has been a real window into how remotely piloted aircraft systems are being used and may be used during emergency responses,” said Tony O’Brien, of the EENA.

In a separate initiative in the United Kingdom, the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS) is using the DJI Inspire 1 to support operations.

“For us, this technology is a game-changer,” said Group Manager Steve McLinden.  The MAWWFRS is a trailblazer in Wales regarding the utilization of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s). They are one of only a few fire services in the UK to be licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority to operate drones professionally.

When the team first received their Inspire 1, Chief Fire Officer Chris Davies remarked, “the additional reconnaissance during search and rescue operations that the UAV provides could also be invaluable in being able to quickly locate any individuals or animals that may be trapped, and subsequently allow us to direct resources to them quickly.”

Although the complete range of DJI aircraft including the Mavic and Phantom 4 Pro can be useful in supporting search and rescue missions, the Inspire 1 including the X3 camera is a particularly popular option. The Inspire 1 is also compatible with the Zenmuse XT thermal camera developed by FLIR.

The XT camera provides high-sensitivity (50mK) thermal imaging at 640/30 fps or 336/30 fps depending on the camera model. This sensitivity provides accurate temperature measurements with clear imagery and 360 degrees of rotational movement. The XT can be controlled completely through the DJI GO app, providing a real-time view of what the camera is capturing and can be put into the air with the Inspire 1 in seconds.

DJI is making exceptional advances in the arena of aerial platforms and the Inspire 1 with Zenmuse XT may soon become the de facto standard for search and rescue missions across the globe as more begin to use the technology.