How Drones Are Saving Lives

It is almost hard to remember a time when drones weren’t a part of our everyday lives, constantly in the news. After a year in which the world has been forced into quarantine, drones have become even more important in the day to day activities of countless businesses and individuals. It wasn’t long ago that many stories of drones in the news painted them in a negative light. The near misses of drones and manned aircraft, the possibility of drones being used to spy on citizens, the way drones were being used in terror attacks. The reality is that those incidents were in the minority of how drones are used. Since then, there has been a large movement called Drones for Good in which people share the multitude of ways in which drones are used to help people.

To shine a light on Drones for Good, DJI, released a paper in 2017 called Lives Saved: a Survey of Drones in Action. DJI, which stands for Da-Jiang Innovations, was founded by Wang Tao in 2006. Despite recent concerns over privacy issues from the United States, the Chinese company has remained the number one drone manufacturer in the world. DJI has maintained this status by creating professional quality drones and drone services at prices that are affordable to everyday consumers. This means that anyone from novice to professional photographers, primary to university school programs, hobbyists to state funded agencies can afford a drone that outperforms many others on the market.

In the 2017 Lives Saved: a Survey of Drones in Action, DJI compiled statistics on just how many times drones were used to assist in rescuing people around the world, one of the most important jobs a drone can perform. Based solely on information gathered from the news and social media reports, DJI counted at least 59 lives saved directly because of a drone. That comes out to nearly one life a week, and that is only from the stories popular enough to make it into the news. What made this first survey even more remarkable was the fact that the majority of these drone rescues were done by good samaritans. In 2017, there were not many police, fire, or rescue agencies that had drones at their disposal.

When reports of missing persons or people stranded in a flood zone came out, local individuals with drones would rush to the scene to aid police in search and rescue missions. After recognizing just how vital drones could be in rescuing people, the paper went on to state, “DJI is at the forefront in efforts to develop best practices and optimal standards for firefighters, rescue services and other first responders to integrate drones into their command protocols. As these efforts continue, we expect the number of lives saved by drones to continue to grow.” Today, thousands of police, fire, emergency, and first responders have implemented drones into their cache.

DJI has continued to put forth a count of how many drones have been used to do good and save lives. It is now a website called the Drone Rescue Map in which reports of drone recuses from around the world are highlighted. The website still relies on news and social media reports to compile the data, but there is also a form on the site for people to fill out drone rescue stories. The website goes on to explain, “To be included in this map, a drone must have been used to rescue a person from peril. (It doesn’t matter which company made the drone.) The drone must have been an active part of the search or rescue operation, and the drone must have made a difference in accomplishing the rescue faster, safer, more easily, or more effectively than would have been possible without the drone. For example, if a drone is used to search for a missing person who is found by a ground searcher, or a drone watches while crews rescue someone from a remote location, it is not considered a drone rescue. But if a drone guides rescuers to a hidden victim, or brings supplies to someone stranded, that is considered a drone rescue.”

According to data compiled this year, drones have assisted in saving more than 500 lives. In the United States alone, there were 163 times when a drone was used to save a life. The most recent of these events was when a drone was used to rescue a 93 year old woman missing in Missouri. Using a high definition camera with thermal imagery, the drone was able to spot the woman in a dark field. Earlier this year the Cass County Sheriff’s Office was able to purchase two DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drones. The department designated four officers to be trained and licensed in not only the basics of drone operation, but how to use them for police matters. This includes search and rescue missions as well as traffic monitoring, suspect pursuit, and evidence collection.

In October 2020, Chris Fairchild ventured out without a cellphone to see if she could get help tending to her 18 acre pasture. As it started to get dark and she still hadn’t returned home, her 91 year old husband began to worry and called the sheriff’s department. When a deputy arrived and realized searching the field with a flashlight was pointless he called for backup. Maj. Kevin Tieman arrived on the scene and promptly sent one of the department’s drones. Within 5 minutes of launching the drone, the thermal imaging camera showed a bright yellow dot in the middle of the field. Mrs. Fairchild’s spirits were lifted once she heard the drone overhead, and moments later she was safe in her home. She and her husband were amazed by the drone rescue, a device they had never experienced in their nearly 100 years of life.

Drones and how they are used have come a long way over the last few years. As Maj. Tieman pointed out, seeing that yellow dot on his monitor after knowing that every second counted in saving Mrs. Fairchild’s life, was a huge relief. The impact that drones as rescue tools have on society continues to grow. As Romeo Durscher, DJI Senior Director of Public Safety Integration said “Today, public safety agencies across the world have adopted drones as a standard piece of equipment, and drones save people from peril every few days. It’s an astonishing success story for public safety, and for the people who are alive today because of drones.”

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