Search and Rescue Drones

In this article, we have a look at search and rescue drones for emergency situations. In Switzerland, where more  than 60% of the terrain is mountainous, it is paramount to develop an efficient response and have processes ready in order to search for people in hard to-reach places.
search and rescue drones

In Switzerland, where more than 60% of the terrain is mountainous, it is paramount to develop an efficient response and have processes ready in order to search for people in hard-to-reach places. That is where search and rescue drones come into play. Let’s have a look at the role of these drones and the regulations that go with utilizing them in search and rescue operations.

What Are Drones for Search and Rescue?

Drones for search and rescue are specialized unmanned aerial vehicles designed to assist in locating and providing aid to individuals in emergencies. Equipped with advanced technology, including high-resolution cameras and thermal imaging, these drones can access remote and hazardous areas that are challenging for traditional rescue teams to reach. 

They play a crucial role in:

  • Saving lives during disasters, 
  • Finding missing persons,
  • Assessing dangerous conditions such as fires, natural disasters, or hazardous material incidents. 

The Role of Drones in Search and Rescue

These unmanned aircraft serve as the eyes in the sky, providing real-time, high-definition imagery and thermal data to locate and aid individuals in distress. With their nimble maneuverability, they navigate through treacherous terrain, offering a bird’s-eye view that was once unattainable. In addition to expediting response times, search and rescue drones can safely access areas that pose significant risks to human rescuers. 

An aerial drone with a camera flying over a forest
An aerial drone with a camera flies and shoots video over the forest

How Are Drones Used for Search and Rescue in the Mountains?

Mountain slopes attract people at any time of the year. Recreational complexes, ski tracks, and paragliding sites are built on top of the mountains. Walking routes are laid, which greatly attracts tourists, sportsmen, and the local population.

The statistics concerning accidents is not very comforting. According to the Swiss Alpine Club, from January to June 2018, 80 people died in the mountains in Switzerland, which is twice as many as in 2017, and the number has increased steadily over the past years.

The use of drones in various fields, especially for search and rescue, is also increasing. Today, these UAs are already actively used during large fires or natural disasters. But how are drones used in search and rescue? They are equipped with a navigation system that allows you to control the device at a safe distance from the scene. They also have the most recent cameras and thermal imagery.

Operations using search and rescue drones open the door to faster and more cost-effective operations. In recent events in Ukraine, search and rescue drones were used to deliver food to places that a rescue team could not reach.

A camera drone hovering and flying over snowy terrain

The Potential of Using Search and Rescue Drones for Emergency Response

It is difficult to estimate the potential of drones to support emergencies. However, one thing is evident – search and rescue drones are effective in situations where speed and efficiency are especially important. They save time and resources and can perform tasks that are dangerous for humans or tasks in places that are difficult to access (access from the ground is limited or difficult).

Search and rescue drones help find people that neither rescue teams nor other equipment can access. By attaching a thermal camera to a rescue drone, it is possible to detect people at night, under debris, and in smoky areas with poor visibility.

These Technologies Are Optimized for Disaster Planning and Coordination

With the help of search and rescue drones, one can also quickly obtain a 3D model of the terrain, which is necessary for forecasting the dynamics of a disaster, as well as simulating the development of an emergency situation. Not only can a drone support the effective response to a natural disaster, but it also helps prepare the rescue teams. 

The drones will also be able to find the focus of the disaster and/or conduct a video broadcast to coordinate the work of rescue teams. For wider support, the drone can be equipped with a thermal camera, sensors, or dosimeters to measure the level of radioactive, chemical, and biological contamination without exposing people’s health to risk.

A drone with a camera flying

Regulations Surrounding Search and Rescue Drones

State aircraft activities in Europe, such as search and rescue drones, firefighting, coastguards, border control police, or customs missions, can be exempted from the EASA basic regulation. Therefore, those missions are very often regulated by the EASA member states.

In Germany, for instance, the police, firefighters, and other users of drones with state missions are exempted from the EASA drone regulation (§ 21k LuftVO). This exemption does not apply only to state institutions but also to companies that could carry out safety-related missions. 

While this possibility is often seen as a chance to perform search and rescue-related missions with less administrative complexity, it has also been criticized since many state institutions in Germany lack the relevant knowledge and understanding necessary to perform operations safely.

Ensuring Safety in Drone Operations for Safety-Related Missions

The state and private organizations with safety-related missions may be exempted from the EASA drone regulation but should, in practice, ensure a level of safety equivalent to entities seeking authorization in the equivalent risk-based category (JARUS SORA). 

That’s why the German civil aviation authority recommends that they follow Recommendations for common regulation of drone usage in civil protection. Aviation law should also be respected during operations. In the Swiss drone market, search and rescue drones have special rules, and there’s a new law in the works to improve their regulation.

A drone flying over the city

Embrace the Safety Through Advanced Technology

These unmanned aerial solutions have proven invaluable in their ability to swiftly locate and assist individuals in distress, navigate treacherous terrains, and provide critical data to first responders. As we continue to witness their capabilities evolve, it is crucial for organizations and agencies to embrace the potential of these drones to enhance their rescue operations.

If you need help navigating all the regulations that come with unmanned aircraft, contact UASolutions and embark on a journey toward a safer future. Don’t miss the opportunity to be a part of this transformative technology and ensure safer and more efficient responses to emergencies, ultimately saving more lives.