If you’re reading a story about drones in the mainstream media, that chances are it’ll be something that raises safety or privacy concerns.

Of course these are legitimate and understandable issues to raise; and the increase in the number of drone related incidents around airports certainly has to be addressed. However, what don’t tend to grab the headlines in the same way are the fascinating and often beneficial ways in which drones are already being used in a whole range of unexpected sectors.

For an industry that didn’t really exist 10 years ago the growth has been incredible.

One of those sectors taking an active interest is the emergency services, where drone use across the police, fire and ambulance services is something that is either being trialled or is already in use. Drones can go where it might be impossible, dangerous or too costly to send people, and there are some fascinating examples of where they are making a very practical difference and even helping to save lives.

It’s a subject I’ll be speaking about at the Emergency Service Show at the Birmingham NEC this week.

Police demonstration of the use of drones within the police force. Warwickshire Police HQ, Leek Wootton.

Police demonstration of the use of drones within the police force. Warwickshire Police HQ, Leek Wootton.

Half of all police forces in the UK are now making some use of drones in their work. Surrey and Sussex police for example have recently bolstered their drone fleet to five, having used drones for multiple operations over the past two years, including missing person searches, airport security and crash scene investigations. Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire forces have also just introduced drones following a successful trial where they saw the benefits of being able to capture evidence from the air in real-time.

For the fire service, incident commanders are using drones to provide on demand footage in order to make faster, more informed decisions. During a house fire in a built up area, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service were able to use a drone to get a view of the area of roof that was ablaze and how the adjoining properties were effected.  And again, during an incident involving poisonous chemicals they were able to use a drone to investigate the location and help identify the correct equipment they’d need while the crew stayed safely upwind.

house fire

Getting a bird’s eye view of an incident.

Things are not yet as advanced in the ambulance service, but that’s certainly not for a lack of innovative thinking.  In Israel, a drone ambulance called AirMule that is capable of airlifting two people over 30 miles has been trialled, while a drone with an inbuilt defibrillator has been prototyped in the Netherlands in the hope of improving the chances of someone surviving a heart attack.  Under current regulations, where drones can’t be flown out of sight of the pilot, both these ambitious projects are unfeasible in the UK. As such the on-going trials by Amazon in the UK for extended and beyond line of sight flight may yet have greater ramifications than simply being able to get our parcels delivered more quickly.

Of course the one thing all these examples have in common is that the drones are being flown by trained and certified pilots who have a thorough knowledge of the rules around flying drones safely. And while you may need specific qualifications to fly professionally, anyone who flies a drone has a responsibility to do so correctly and to understand their obligations as a pilot – namely not to fly above 400ft, within 50 metres of a person or building, and never beyond line of sight.

So while the growth in drones is something that’s very exciting, education is the key to make sure everyone remains on the right side of the law and that’s the core message I will be delivering at the Emergency Services Show later this week. I hope to see you there.


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