The rapidly evolving technologies are crafting the future of humanitarian disaster response. Picture for a second the possibility of deploying the first aid within the next 24 hours after a hazard strikes. Drones may play a key role in the near future, since they are able to easily cover the entire affected areas, quickly report the transit map affectations for ground units, successfully communicate the status of crucial buildings; just to mention some advantages. The Australian Red Cross in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs are exploring many scenarios in the Asia-Pacific region to potentiate drones as a very useful ally.

The research will also try to figure out how unmanned units can deliver supplies to the most affected communities. It is well known that reaching distant localities after a natural disaster can be an overwhelming task, not only because of the amount of resources needed but because of the lack of accessibility. Sometimes the unsuitable weather conditions or road and rail corridors damage make impossible to transport aid. Because of their size, speed and vision range, drones fit perfectly to address these complications.

A real test for our tiny flying friends

Early this years, the Cyclone Winston crashed with some South Pacific countries, including Fiji and Vanuatu. The research team headed to the disaster area, where after 24 hours, they opened the flight cases, the drones emerged and aligned up in the cloudy sky, and after the authorities issued flight permission, the real challenge began.

This interesting experiment resulted in a very useful tool to scout seriously damaged areas that in a regular operation would be only possible to reach after several days. Peter Walton, Director of International Australian Red Cross, explained that drones gave the response team the ability to fly at much lower levels, recording and processing GPS coordinates for them to know exactly the status and location of the events occurring.

Drones could fill the vacuum of information in the wake of a disaster. Understanding who has been affected, how badly, and where, is absolutely key. Otherwise you’re just guessing.

Patrick Meier

Executive Director and a leading expert in the use of drones in humanitarian assistance., WeRobotics

What’s next?

There are still some concerns to solve before replying this model, for instance comply with local aviation laws, and ensure that this procedure does not affect cultural sensitivities. However, this technology will be very easy to operate by local partners without the requirement of a special unit, saving tons of valuable resources. In addition, the researchers are exploring the possibility of using this technology to deliver vital emergency supplies, for example medicine and food to distant communities.

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