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UAV in Public Safety

I was following the story of the toddler who went missing in Manitoba and how the RCMP used surveillance drones to map out the search area and look for clues. This story prompted me to look into the significant role UAV can play in such scenarios in Canada. I thought our readers might find the results of my research interesting.

UAV in Police work
I was surprised to learn during my research that drones have been a part of police investigations in Canada since around 2009. Since then, they have been playing increasingly significant roles in some areas of investigation. Halton Regional Police in Ontario’s Niagara region purchased their first UAV in 2009. They have been using their UAV to investigate missing person incidents, traffic accidents, armed robbery, and even homicide. In 2010, the RCMP incorporated the use of UAV into investigations, and in 2011, they created the “F” Division Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program.

The RCMP has been increasingly utilizing UAV to assist in Search and Rescue, Tactical/Emergency Response Teams, collision reconstruction analysis, and forensic crime scene investigations. They and a number of other police services have noted that UAV provide a unique, bird’s eye perspective of the scene. The officers who fly the UAV are trained and licensed as required by Transport Canada. 

In May 2013, the RCMP successfully located a male who had been injured in a single vehicle accident and had wandered away from the crash site in a rural area of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. They used a DraganFlyer X4-ES, which is specifically designed for Public Safety use, with a FLIR infrared camera to locate him two miles from the crash site. This turned out to be a pretty big deal, as it was the first recorded incidence of a UAV being used successfully in a search and rescue situation. The event received international media attention with the RCMP appearing on the Katie Kouric show in the USA. Then in September 2014, Halifax RCMP used a DraganFlyer X4 to find a family who had gotten lost on a trail in a heavily wooded area of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.


Aerobotika’s soon-to-be released PM81 is an affordable professional grade multirotor UAV that will have similar capabilities.

UAV in emergency management
Earlier this year, Emergency Management BC (EMBC) told search and rescue teams across BC that they are able to request the use of a RCMP UAV in their search efforts. Search and rescue teams have been very interested in using UAV, and a proposed pilot project is being reviewed to see whether a volunteer with a SFOC or a contractor could operate the UAV.

Volunteer search and rescue teams have been experimenting with using UAV to map terrain and locate people with infrared technology. An infrared camera can be attached to the UAV to find someone by sensing body heat. UAV are cheaper than helicopters and can do night flights. They can also map an area and give searchers a better overview of the terrain.

Coquitlam Search and Rescue has proposed that Emergency Management BC allow operators with a SFOC to volunteer their services for search and rescue. EMBC is currently working with the BC Search and Rescue Association to create a province-wide policy for UAV use in search and rescue operations.

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UAV now and beyond
When UAV first came on the scene, many saw their usefulness for going to places where humans couldn’t or where it would be dangerous for us to go. The ability to attach payloads, such as cameras (digital or infrared) or products ordered from Amazon, added further value. Another value is they allow us to study nature without interfering with wildlife. If you are like me and enjoy watching nature shows, then you have a good idea of what I mean.

Those familiar with UAV history know that armies were the earliest adopters of UAV. However, industries such as mining and aeronautics also integrated UAV in their operations early on. Now, UAV in agriculture is seeing huge potential, and many countries have been studying how they can be used to benefit both farmers and the economy. We’re happy to say that Aerobotika has been involved in some of this research here in BC.

Aerobotika also offers an Enterprise Enablement Program that assists companies who, like the police and search and rescue services, would like to integrate drones into their operations and take things to the next level. Our program is developed to help clients get through the process of deciding if UAS is right for their business, right through to its implementation in operations.

In our 5 Benefits of UAV in Agriculture blog, we talk about the many useful applications of UAV in agriculture, including some of the work we have done in this area. There are some pretty interesting things going on in that sector.

Sources (retrieved 5/16/2016):
Search and rescue crews granted request to access RCMP drones
RCMP in Saskatchewan Year in Review 2013-2014
RCMP drone helps find lost Dartmouth family
Drones give RCMP investigators new perspective on crime scenes
Mounties love their drone technology; finding even more uses
Drones join the hunt from the skies for B.C. search and rescue
Canada’s police forces take to the sky with drones

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About Paul Bennett