Drones have huge potential for the UK with the ‘drone economy’ potentially worth tens of billions if we get the policy and investment environment right. As emerged from our Drones Futures event earlier this year, the UK could lead the way in drone adoption and their role in supporting the vital work of the emergency services is the subject of a free conference we are holding on 9 November.
For the emergency services, drones offer some serious capability. Most obviously they are a cheaper and more rapid response alternative to helicopters, giving operational commanders better insight to best deploy resources. This flexibility can speed up search and rescue operations, limit the risk to staff, reduce costs and save lives. Right now, Lincolnshire Police, who spoke at our Drone Futures conference earlier in the year, are using drones to search for missing people, fighting rural crime, supporting local councils and managing traffic around large events. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) ran trials using drones in real life rescues and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue have started using drones to evaluate fires and reduce risks to their personnel.
In the future, who knows how the user cases will develop, but concepts for drone ambulances are being worked on and as drone tech becomes smaller, they could become more ubiquitous among emergency responders (who could imagine 20 years ago each emergency service employee would have access to smartphones?).
So the benefits of using drones in the emergency services are vast, but how systematic and effective are they being used? The truth is that like other technologies, drone adoption in blue light services has been patchy. The localised nature of emergency services makes it very difficult to have a single approach to technology rollout. Some police and fire services have got great stories to tell, whilst others have with invested poorly (bought the machines but not understood it) or are only at the start of their drone journeys. So what are the barriers?
Money and resources are the obvious barriers, but leadership culture is a big one too. It needs to occur to emergency service leaders to use drones and make sure those on the ground have the confidence, understanding and skills to effectively deploy them and no what they offer. The need for collaboration with other services is essential to addressing these gaps as is having examples and real champions for drones across all the blue light services.
We will be discussing this at a free techUK conference Blue Light Drones: from niche to mainstream on 9 November. Click here to book your space .