Exploring Use of Drones for Search and Rescue by Garth Bruce

Information. We’ve all become used to having it for everything we need. “What’s the weather going to be like next week, in the next 3 hours? Exactly when will UPS deliver my new backpack? Can I make it to the climbing gym and not be stuck in traffic for an hour?

The information we get for rescue missions today is usually just a call from the sheriff’s office, “hiker stranded on cliff face on Guye Peak.” We know the general area but we wouldn’t know exactly where, if they’re injured, if they’re at risk of falling, or even the best way to reach them. Same information we had 30 years ago.

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS aka drones) can provide better information and help answer critical questions which can potentially save someone’s life. They can quickly be deployed into the field and report better information to the rescue team “The hiker is on a small but solid rock ledge exactly 722 feet from the summit at these GPS coordinates. From the real-time video, it appears they are in no immediate danger of falling but have very little clothing and are at serious risk of becoming hypothermic. They cannot be lowered safely given the terrain. The best approach will likely be from the west.” Detailed and accurate data like this can dramatically speed up a rescue operation, provide valuable information to help the subject, and help ensure the safety of the all rescuers.

Currently, the sheriff’s department does not allow the use of drones in rescue operations in King County. We see the use of rescue drones as a valuable tool in the near future and are actively testing them to see how they could be used in a multitude of scenarios: a missing Alzheimer’s patient in Duvall, an avalanche on Granite Mountain, a lost hiker on Green Mountain, an evidence search in Kent, a missing boater on the Snoqualmie River, and many others. As soon as the King County Sheriff’s office allows UAS’s to be used for Search and Rescue operations, we will be ready to help them, and the people who depend on us.