How will UAVs help in disaster management?
Modern disaster relief and emergency response (DRER) services are provided by networks of law enforcement, fire protection, military, and other special service personnel. Forest fires, flooding, earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions, etc… are a few disasters which are to be studied to do as best as we can during the calamities. A multi- spectral digital camera, a SAR, and a thermal digital camera may be considered to be used for studying such events. And these payloads can easily be fitted on any medium sized UAV. High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs are the most suited for disaster management.
These UAVs can endure longer duration and go to safer and higher heights at the same time monitor the identified area producing good resolution pictures and videos. Disasters or emergencies for which DRER UAV systems could be implemented include: severe storms, tornados, hurricanes, wild fires, tsunamis, floods, earthquakes, avalanches, civil disturbances, oil or chemical spills, and urban disasters.
In a flooding situation the capacity of laser scanners aboard UAVs with accurate determined elevation, may also be used in hydrology (flooding estimation by means of accurate digital terrain models, river discharge estimation by measuring the water level). This information coupled with a hydrological model can forecast water levels hours in advance and rapid adjustments can be made available with fast updates, warning people and taking preventive actions against the upcoming water. The most suitable sensors for monitoring flooding before a catastrophic event are the multi- spectral digital camera and two active remote sensing systems, the LIDAR and the SAR.
Precursors of volcanic eruptions have been observed in various areas of volcanic activity. It would be easier to make decisions for evacuation if we can launch a HALE UAV and make a quick assessment on the volcanic eruptions. Think of earthquakes, which are caused by the abrupt release of strain that has built up in the earth’s crust. Most zones of maximum earthquake intensity and frequency occur at the boundaries between the moving tectonic plates that form the crust of the earth. Major earthquakes also occur within the interior of crusted plates such as those in China, Russia and the south-east of the United States.
In a forest fire the areas affected by recurrent forest fires may be monitored by UAVs. The UAV will provide information on the condition of the vegetation and its susceptibility to fires. It can monitor and detect commencing fires, providing crucial information to fire fighters and damage prevention experts to organize their activities.
The HALE UAV launched within 24 hours of the event starts hovering and assesses the area affected. Then it transmits the data to the command centre through the advanced communication equipment. This is an OTH (Over The Horizon) operation. The data is then transmitted to the DATA archive server which stores the data for future references and then the images are processed. The processed images are stored in the Archive Centre and also uploaded into the internet for global access to various NEWS channels and agencies. Finally with the help of the data obtained including the videos and pictures the On-Scene Command and Control Centre will take decisions accordingly for the safety of the people and important assets. Data sent to first responders can be included automated messages generated by the UAV (as results of software technologies) or raw video streams. Some of this information could be made directly available to the public, but this must be done carefully to avoid initiating panic or infringing on public privacy. All this is done within the limits of the control of UAV deployment.
The use of HALE-UAV for disaster management is certainly not restricted to the few applications described above. Using the best available technology, the HALE-UAV system will offer a very flexible platform, sensor complementarities, possible continuous survey, near-real time availability of the data via internet, very high spatial resolution and, last but not least, a lower price of the data as compared to satellite and airborne systems. Developed from the commercial goal of broadband connectivity and as a complement to traditional satellites, the solar UAVs are a sky-based Internet communications system. They can carry passive microwave and hyper-spectral optical imagers for weather forecasting and high-resolution surface imaging. Tornado watch, monitoring, and firstresponse has been selected as a scenario in which UAV assets will likely be beneficial and spawn the development of new technologies. HALE UAV storm monitoring platforms are currently operational in earth science roles.
Once the solar UAVs are equipped with fuel cells, they will be able to continuously fly for months and be on call if a disaster occurs. Expected to reach altitudes of 100,000 feet for one- day flights, several times higher than commercial jets these slow-flying aircraft can hover in the vicinity above weather and air traffic. When a disaster occurs, one can be rapidly deployed within hours to the stricken area and can use its sensors 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assist relief efforts. By comparing new imagery to previous imagery, the system can report on infrastructure damage and distribute high-resolution aerial photos in real time to disaster management teams from such organizations as the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Global Disaster Information Network.
Global Hawk has been assisting with disaster relief efforts around Japan by collecting near real-time imagery which allows officials to better prioritize and direct their resources. This is a familiar role for the Global Hawk, which also helped to monitor the situation in Haiti after the 7.0 earthquake there in January 2010. The platform proved to be successful enough that Global Hawks have been adapted for climate monitoring and environmental mapping, and NASA has a pair of the UAVs that it’s using as technology demonstrators.
Efforts are on for intricate information gain on the damages due to natural calamities. UAVs this way can be of great help for the human life. Not only the Global Hawk, but many small and medium UAVs and UAS are being launched regularly to keep a track on the environmental hazards and dangers with rapid changes in the climate. The right application can give the best results using the Unmanned Ariel Vehicles. Optimal design of aerial systems for such applications will lead to unmanned vehicles which provide maximum potentiality for relief and emergency response while accounting for public safety concerns and regulatory requirements. The optimal design of unmanned systems for DRER applications is dependent not only oneasily quantifiable vehicle and mission requirements but also more abstract constraints such as public perception, appropriate levels of vehicle autonomy, and collective system-of-systems interfaces and design. A generalized systems analysis approach will therefore be conceptually outlined for application to this problem with the purpose of finding an optimal system design trade space given a set of requirements and other factors and considerations.
In June last year Uttarakhand, (N India) was flooded with unimaginable catastrophe. Developed with the idea of surveillance and inducted by the paramilitary forces in 2012, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used for the first time in a disaster rescue operation in Uttarakhand and the experiment seems to be a success. National Disaster Response Force deployed three such machines for reconnaissance in the flood-ravaged State and this has enabled them to locate and rescue more victims. More of such unmanned vehicles should be used for rescuing people.
Increased public awareness of the usefulness of unmanned civil assets would benefit the industry by making the public more accepting of both the concept of Aerobots and increased focus on research into experimental unmanned technologies. This increased awareness and acceptance will be an important step towards modifying regulations regarding unmanned vehicles to allow for more routine unmanned flight operations. There is also inherent risk to humans when unmanned aerial systems are flown in close proximity to inhabited areas. Several risk mitigation strategies could be implemented to protect against potential system or hardware failures. Looking into the cost and maintenance, even as overall worldwide demand increases the civil UAV market remains a niche market which will be marked by high operational costs in comparison to manned aircraft.
The deciding factor will become whether or not the benefits gained from implementation of life- saving UAV systems are worth the price. A better educated public will be more willing and able to support and fund development of new technologies and implementation of new concepts. Advances in systems technology will enable the advancement and expansion of the UAV market worldwide.
The author , Lt Cdr John Livingstone (Retd) is Founder & Managing Director of Johnnette Technologies Pvt Ltd. He was a UAV External Pilot in the Indian Navy and has years of experience in the unmanned systems industry both from the military operations and civilian unmanned systems applications. He is also the first Indian Naval Officer to get First Merit Award at UAV Tettra School, Indian Air Force in 2007. He also conducts test flights for small UAVs. Johnnette Technologies Pvt Ltd organises unmanned systems events in India and publishes India’s first and the only magazine on unmanned systems titled UNMANNED. Livingstone is also the President of Consortium of Unmanned Vehicle Systems India (www.cuvsi.org)