Drones are frequently used in emergencies and natural disasters but conflicts emerge between public and private drone operators and other emergency aircraft, such as those used in wildland firefighting, during the wildfire seasons of 2017 and 2018. In some cases, air tankers and helicopters were unable to drop water or fire retardant due to the threat of collision with smaller, unmanned systems in the area.
As per reports from SFGATE, in an attempt at more efficient rescue operations- the Menlo Park Fire Protection District has teamed up with the U.S. Coast Guard to create a first-of-its-kind drone operation over San Francisco Bay. “Unmanned aerial systems,” aka drones, have been added in the partnerships to complement commonly-used vehicles in the rescue fleet such as helicopters.
These will be called first responder drones — bringing the ability to hover over the water’s surface with the ease, safety and maneuverability not found in other traditional aircraft or boats. Drones can hover and turn on a dime. So when a boater, paddle boarder, kayaker, swimmer is in distress, this low-to-the-surface aerial eye is expected to help immensely.
“We’ve established that our search and rescue drones working in conjunction with our water rescue craft, or rescue boats, don’t need to fly above 150 feet elevation, or height, for almost every SAR mission over land or sea,” Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said, adding, “this optimal drone flight height gives us the best bird’s eye screen view, pictures, video and most importantly strategic situational awareness capabilities that can enhance and better coordinate joint aviation operations where seconds count and minutes matter.”
Since conducting search and rescue operations in one of the busiest waterways in the world commands the use of all the tools of the trade, questions about anti-collision lighting and other safety protocols are also addressed. U.S. Coast Guard Commander Brian Potter says, “Drones are a tremendous asset for searching the confined areas around bridges and power lines and, when combined with … helicopters, provide a more complete and effective maritime rescue package for the Bay Area public.”
Menlo Park Fire successfully flew a drone over the Camp Fire remains in Paradise to get a survey of the post-fire devastation in Butte County, the site of California’s most destructive and deadliest wildfires in history. Menlo Park Fire is on top of its game when it comes to deploying resources that enhance its community’s public safety and recovery operations.
The U.S. Coast Guard also has a long history of creating and utilizing the latest in technology to assist in its federal public safety efforts. Cmdr. Brian Potter was happy to add, “Partnerships like this ensure we remain at the leading edge of integrating unmanned technology into maritime search and rescue. Drones are a tremendous asset for searching the confined areas around bridges and power lines and, when combined with manned helicopters, provide a more complete and effective maritime rescue package for the Bay Area public.”
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