A year into a pilot project to test unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — commonly known as drones — for search and rescue, the province says the jury is still out on the high-tech helpers.
Search teams in Coquitlam and Kamloops got the go ahead from Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC) to test the tools last December.
In both cases, the teams have been working with commercial UAV pilots who can be called on to assist with a search.
But EMBC search and rescue specialist Andrew Morrison said the drones haven’t seen enough air time yet to draw any firm conclusions.
“For example, Coquitlam Search and Rescue had zero deployments. Kamloops Search and Rescue had requested a UAV 18 times and deployed nine times,” he said.
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EMBC has also been working with the RCMP’s drone program, and while Morrison said not enough data has been collected to form new policy, the agency has gleaned some useful information.
“The UAVs seem to be much more effective in a small defined area as opposed to a mountainside or a very large geographical area. They are very good when it comes to hazard assessment,” he said.
Morrison said teams have also learned that the drones are not very effective at penetrating tree canopies, meaning they’ve had limited success flying over forested areas.
“Other things we will be evaluating next year will be the differences between having a commercial UAV operator and having a SAR volunteer that’s trained as a pilot.”
The pilot project is being extended for another year to November 2018.