Saved by the Drone: Emergency Response UAVs

In February, I had the pleasure of speaking as a panelist at the Campbell University School of Law Symposium on UAVs.  My panel focused on North Carolina drone regulations but to put North Carolina laws in context, I volunteered be an uber-nerd and research 50 states of UAV legislation and condense it all into a 10 minute summary.  #challengeaccepted 


Looking at over 80 pieces of legislation over 50 states and 4 years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) was fascinating and brought to light certain "trends" in the overall UAV regulatory scheme.  One of the "trends" I noticed was that starting in 2016, approximately 24% of new UAV laws addressed the use of UAVs by first responders or as search and rescue devices.  Essentially, laws addressing how drones may save lives during disasters.  

Can a Drone Save a Life?

Absolutely.  A recent study released by DJI, a leader in UAV manufacturing, showed that since May 2016, drones have been used (internationally) to save 38 known lives.  This is approximately one life saved per week and since this data is only known lives saved, it is very likely more have been saved by the use of drones.  

Flashback to Hurricane Matthew in NC. A drone saved a veteran and his dog from rising flood waters when a recreational drone user captured the two of them hanging outside a nearly flooded second story window.  The drone pilot then tweeted the image to law enforcement, prompting the man and his dog being saved.

On the flip-side, drones have been known to interfere with rescue efforts, particularly firefighting efforts out west during wildfires.   Flying over extreme conditions like wildfires is incredibly dangerous... even more so when there are drones buzzing within essential airspace.  This recurring drone-interference issue caused many planes to land premature of any firefighting efforts, thereby making the wildfires that much more dangerous to civilians, homeowners and nature.  

Despite the bad stories, imagine having drones during the 9/11 attacks.  A drone could potentially penetrate rubble looking for survivors, scan the ground with sensors that could detect body heat, breathing and life and even assist in firefighting efforts that could have preventing hundreds of deaths.  The bottom line is that drones are excellent search and rescue tools, the problem is safely executing the drone search and rescue without interference by recreational drone users.  

NC & Search/Rescue Drones

North Carolina is surprisingly on the forefront of drone legislation and unbeknownst to most people, we have a pretty thorough body of drone laws.  The one topic our state has yet to address, however, are first responder drones.  Hurricane Matthew certainly opened up some eyes regarding both the potential benefits of drones, but also exposed the potential pitfalls of interference.  It is likely our state will soon propose first responder legislation and offer more specific guidance on the use of drones in search and rescue efforts while also penalizing those who interfere with drones.  

When this day comes, we'll happily keep you informed!  In the meantime, check out our Campbell Law Symposium presentations on drone laws in NC and beyond and let us know if you would like a complimentary Coffee-&-Learn!