The overwhelming benefit of drone technology that can add to state and local emergency service operations is frequently overlooked. As the market for drones has exploded on the scene in the last few years, the options in terms of aircraft and the technology involved has grown as well. The lower-end systems are little more than plastic, hobby aircraft. Though they provide an easy to fly aircraft with impressive imaging capability, their expandability, safety features, and redundancy leave much to be desired. Most police and fire departments are equipping themselves with the mid range priced imaging drones that help maintain continuous surveillance and perimeters over sensitive areas such as large scale fires, hazardous material incidents, search and rescue operation, crime scenes, hostage situations and even accident reconstruction. Incident commanders can get a better view of a wildfire by deploying a drone to see how fast the fire is moving and if any exposures are near the fire. Videos or images of an incident can be used as debriefing, training or investigation.
Take for example the X3 4K gimbal mounted camera on the DJI Inspire Drone. This camera provides excellent video, better than 1080p and can also take 12mp photos, all within the quick press of the finger on the DJI GO App. The Inspire drone is also an excellent choice for police and fire departments to use as the X3 camera can quickly be detached and the Zenmuse XT Thermal Imaging Camera can be snapped in its place. The Inspire can also utilize a “slave” remote utilizing a pilot / video operator team. This allows the pilot to concentrate on flying the aircraft and the operator controlling the camera.
The Zenmuse XT thermal imaging camera which can be flown on the DJI Inspire has proven to be a valuable asset by helping incident commanders keep track of personnel through smoke at active fire scenes, as well as during hazmat operations. At a hazmat incident, the Zenmuse XT is very effective not only at spotting small leaks of dangerous materials, but also at showing operators how full tanks and container cars are of toxic fluids when crews are assessing possible damage and threat levels. The XT has several different lens options between 6.8mm and 19mm which are not interchangeable, so you will need to consider what your use case scenario would be. The 6.8 is a wide angled view and could be used for agriculture or mapping. However you would not want to use the 6.8 while searching for a suspect or victim as you would be missing a lot of detail such as a weapon. The 19mm is an excellent lens as it provides a narrow field of view and shows sharper images and details. Look at the comparison below. One is the 7.5mm lens and the other is the 19mm lens. The Inspire’s attitude was only 50 feet. At an incident, the aircraft is likely to be between 150 to 200 feet. So the 19mm could be the best choice lens.
The Zenmuse XT has the ability to detect extremely small temperature differences so it is equally adept at finding people lost in the woods or victims thrown clear of a traffic accident. In fact, the first recorded life to be saved with a thermal imaging drone was an incident that happened in May 2013 when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police used their thermal camera drone to find a man who had been ejected from his vehicle during a rollover accident. Disoriented, the victim wandered away from the accident site and was spotted by the drone before he could succumb to his injuries.
Many fire departments with smaller budgets do not allow for an airplane or helicopter aviation unit. However they are using drones in conjunction with other local agencies to share the acquisition costs and further prove the utility of the program. Drones are going to become a standard piece of equipment very soon. So if you are looking to add this capability to your department’s fleet, arm yourself with some basic information about the options that are out there first, and never forget that high-tech thermal imaging capabilities aren’t just for helicopters. They will serve your department on drones as well.