When a natural disaster strikes, it can change everything. Not only may urban architecture and infrastructure be destroyed, but entire landscapes can be erased by floods, fires and earthquakes, while maps of affected areas can be rendered useless by changes to the local topography.
However, rescuers trying to reach the trapped or injured need to know exactly what has changed as every minute spent assessing the terrain is a minute that could be better spent saving lives.
So it is easy to see why specialist drones are beginning to transform the work of first responders. As soon as they are sent into the skies, they can relay real-time video of events and locations to emergency staff, enabling a rapid and safe assessment of unfolding events that helps to direct assistance where it is needed most.
Now the Red Cross is testing a piece of high-tech equipment that takes the flexibility of what are professionally called ‘remotely piloted aircraft systems’ to new heights with Project Hero – a rescue vehicle so advanced it has a drone that can take off and from its roof and land again when moving.
Holding out for a hero
Land Rovers have been used by the Red Cross for over half a century as their rugged construction is a natural fit for the tough terrain associated with much of the organisation’s work.
But this latest collaboration between Jaguar Land Rover and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the world’s largest humanitarian network, takes the partnership to a new level.
Described as an “advanced communication vehicle”, Project Hero has been created by Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations unit and the Austrian Red Cross in an effort to develop a vehicle whose sole purpose is to save lives by speeding up disaster response times.
The drone can be sent speeding ahead while the Land Rover is en route to a disaster zone, providing live footage that will guide teams to where help is most needed.
This flying eye is controlled from a tablet app, and allows rescuers to assess quickly what their priorities should be, such as a collapsing building or avalanche area, while night vision capabilities mean searches can be carried out around the clock, as well as inside caves and other poorly lit areas.
The Land Rover itself also functions as a communications centre from which rescues can be coordinated, as information can be sent to other emergency workers on the ground.
Speed and agility
Agile mini flying machines are demonstrating a range of abilities in search and rescue situations. For example, one research project found that drones find isolated people much faster than traditional ground-based rescuers.
They can also provide help in the aftermath of disasters by allowing the remote assessment of damage to buildings, roads, bridges and power lines that might otherwise endanger human life.
And larger drones can deliver essential equipment and medicines to areas too dangerous for rescuers to reach.
The flying machines have already proved their worth in such situations. Dozens of drones were deployed in the US city of Houston in response to Hurricane Harvey in 2017, making it ones of the first big disasters in which they have played an important role.
Project Hero is now undergoing a year of trials in simulations, as well as in response to real accidents and incidents such as landslides, avalanches, floods and other disasters that occur in Austria’s mountainous Eisenerz region.
Since Land Rover donated its first vehicle to the British Red Cross in 1954, its 4x4s have been deployed around the world. The company now has a global strategic partnership that involves International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies projects in 25 countries.
The IFRC’s Under Secretary General for Partnerships Dr Jemilah Mahmood says: “Land Rover’s innovative use of emerging technology combined with Red Cross and Red Crescent expertise and access to at-risk communities will hopefully lead to more rapid and effective humanitarian action, and ultimately more lives saved.”
The hope is that Project Hero will soon be a significant part of that global effort, helping to save lives and bring relief where it is needed most.