By now most folks have heard of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, commonly called “drones”, and their military use in hunting down Middle East terrorists and tracking cross-border drug smugglers. More recently, Amazon, Netflix and other mail order companies began exploring use of drones, as I noted in a December, 2013 blog post. Today I stumbled across some YouTube videos showing how UAV’s are being used by real estate agents to showcase homes for sale. I predict this novel use will become the norm, especially with larger homes and properties. The drone views are awesome and unique.
Why do I give a rip about drones and real estate? Two words; situational awareness. The view from a drone, either streamed video or photographs, can give incident commanders an invaluable 4D perspective of the fireground. I found one guy in Detroit who has a YouTube channel with a bunch of fireground videos shot from his drone. It looks like he has a relationship with the Detroit Fire Department, and in this unique perspective of a hazmat incident some of the firefighters even wave at the drone as it flies by. In another video of a vacant building fire you can clearly see the ineffectiveness of unmanned ladder pipe master streams. The company officers and commanders could have used this view to adjust their aim.
Do I think fire departments will embrace UAV technology anytime soon? Nope. Why not? Simple – manpower and money. Drones are not “fire and forget” technology. They need a pilot. Fire departments struggle with keeping three person crews and fire stations open. The luxury of having a firefighter standing around piloting a UAV at an incident is something most departments simply cannot afford. Second,
they are not cheap. Wait, strike that. Actually, there are versions that are very cheap. However, I’m guessing the future drones designed for the fire service will be pretty pricey, especially the ones with infrared (FLIR) technology. Given the long term realities of manpower and budget cuts, most departments will continue to spend money on the basics, and UAV’s are certainly not yet considered a basic tool.
But wait, help is coming. Today, companies offer drone services for a myriad of different situations, security, search and rescue, real estate sales, cinematography, land surveying and crop monitoring. Last week Gerald Baron blogged about the use of drones for emergency response, and included a link to a great presentation by a couple of guys talking about the use of vetted volunteers to operate drones during emergencies. Kind of like the ARES/RACES radio guys, only I like the acronym- DEVO’s (Drone Emergency Volunteer Operators).
It behooves emergency managers and chiefs to find out now if drone video services and/or amateur drone operators (like Gerald) are locally available for hire, or willing to volunteer their time and equipment during emergencies. Trust me, in the future these guys are going to show up anyway, buzzing their camera gnats around the incident scene and later uploading the video on YouTube. It would be a shame to not have this resource immediately available for our responders as the event unfolds.