More Emergency and Police Departments Using Drones to Help Find Missing or Lost People

Search and rescue missions are regrettably common for law enforcement and fire rescue agencies in mountainous areas, especially if you’re located in a hiker’s dream destination like Perinton, New York. Home to numerous trails and breathtaking views, there’s no wonder it was nominated by the American Hiking Society as a “Trail Town USA.” But for Deputy Brian McCoy and Sgt. Matthew Bottone of the MCSO (Monroe County Sheriff Office), it’s all about making sure that dream doesn’t become a nightmare in the form of missing or injured hikers.

One such incident occurred just last month when a 79-year-old man got lost after about an hour of hiking around the area of the White Brook Nature Center. The man became disoriented and unable to locate his car at the trailhead. Normally, a search like this could take hours, maybe days, and could include scores of rescue workers and volunteers performing line searches and grid searches along with small all-terrain vehicles and even dogs. But with drone technology, search and rescue teams can greatly cut down the time it takes to locate a missing person at a fraction of departmental cost.

Drones equipped with cameras can provide aerial views at a much cheaper threshold than helicopters, which most small town law enforcement don’t have access to or cannot afford. With a drone in their arsenal, the MCSO had eyes in the sky almost immediately after the missing person call was received. They were able to find the elderly man in a matter of minutes, minutes that can mean the difference in survival rates for many victims. This drone was also outfitted with thermal imaging capabilities, allowing the officers to view heat signatures which essentially point out exactly where a hiker may be located.

Thermal imaging becomes even more invaluable to rescue teams after sundown. With nothing but moonlight and some flashlights, searching the woods at night increases the difficulty exponentially, thus decreasing the likelihood of searches succeeding. In this manner, drones are indeed life-saving technology.

The Chaffee County Search and Rescue Team in central Colorado conducted two successful rescue missions of their own earlier in September, within mere hours of each other. The first call came in around 7 p.m. when CCSAR’s North division immediately went into action to locate a hiker stranded on a cliff without any gear. Time was of the essence, especially with sundown fast approaching. A team of four drone pilots located and rescued the individual in less than two hours.

The very next morning, they were right back at it as a distressed hunter sent up an emergency beacon in the Three Apostles Basin, home to numerous trails that run around the bases of three huge mountains. The team was able to locate the man and provide initial medical care until Flight for Life arrived to transport him to the hospital.

Whether you are an experienced or novice hiker, being prepared is essential every time you journey out. Having a way to signal for help is always a good idea. But, it is equally important to let someone else know where you may be so that if you don’t return within an appropriate time frame, search and rescue procedures can be initiated. And as drone technology advances and more and more municipal offices adopt them, these rescue missions can be completed with a happy ending.

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