It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… No, it’s a drone and now it’s here to save you. Welcome to the future.
When it comes to search and rescue operations, time is everything. During many types of disasters, gaining a bird’s eye view can provide additional clues for rescuers to save more lives, faster. Though planes and helicopters are useful for reconnaissance, they often waste vital minutes while preparing for deployment. A micro drone, or UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), on the other hand, can be put into action immediately.
“UAVs can take off without a runway with a wide search and rescue radius, and can perform a variety of tasks, which can greatly improve the search precision,” said Zhang Jiajie, Captain of the UAV Blue Sky Rescue Squadron.
Still, for all the cheap fun these little gadgets provide, they’re also serious workhorses. Case in point, the UAV Blue Sky Rescue Squadron was busy this past August setting up the first professional humanitarian UAV rescue organization
in the city.
No small task, indeed
The Squadron is quickly gaining momentum, thanks to its affiliation with Blue Sky Rescue, an already famous, non-governmental rescue organization with branches across the country and over 30,000 volunteers. The first Dongguan branch was established in 2014.
“…there are many physical objects blocking a person, making them hard to spot. At that moment, a UAV cannot only access the victim’s location, but also airdrop food or medicine to them.”
“We charge no money for rescue. If any teammate wants to rescue others, he will be responsible for the traffic fee, daily commodities and accommodation. It’s definitely not an easy job to be part of the rescue team,” Zhang admitted.
Since then, Dongguan’s Blue Sky Rescue has attracted more than 140 members with big hearts from all walks of life. It’s a serious business, though. All members are required to have at least a National Radio License and Red Cross Rescue Certificate, plus a minimum of 50 hours of social service work.
Whenever possible, the team comes together to improve their knowledge at the High Skill Training Center. There, volunteers can work with a professionally AOPA-certified flight instructor and all kinds of flight training equipment. The courses might be tough, but they are developing the members into highly capable, life-savers for the expansive city.
Specifically built for drone operators is the Yifei UAV Training Center, which is also the first of its kind in Dongguan and provides technical support and free training.
Besides the demanding physical labor expected for this type of job, learning how to cope with the mental pressure has been an additional demand for rescuers.
Continuous heart pounding action
Listening to Zhang explain the details of UAV search is almost like being witness to a high-paced thriller.
“In the Golden 72 hours of a rescue, UAVs are a fast way to communicate with the victims. It can use 3D scanning to get an accurate positioning of scenes and monitor any unusual incidents,” Zhang explained.
Discussing a mountain search and rescue scenario, “…there are many physical objects blocking a person, making them hard to spot. At that moment, a UAV cannot only access the victim’s location, but also airdrop food or medicine to them.”
Last year, UAVs proved to be an incredibly useful tool in a search of a tourist who slipped down to the bottom of Shuilian Mountain in Dongguan. They were also effectively used during the tragic Shenzhen landslide that killed 73 people last year. The Dongguan Blue Sky Rescue branch sent UAV rescuers to provide assistance at the disaster area.
“With the support from the Yifei UAV training center, we have UAV devices ranging from video, photography and tracking, which are available for an emergency call at any minute. In next step, we plan to add a device equipped with the advanced technology of infrared units,” Zhang said.
Looking for more talent
The Squadron consists mainly of active, fairly young individuals around 20 to 40 years of age who have bound into a unified unit. Just because they already have a great team doesn’t mean they’re complete. In fact, they’re actively looking for more individuals to join. “Our team is lacking medical professionals and we want more to join the team. Plus, Dongguan is rich with water, so we hope that more water sportsman can come here to give a helping hand,” he mentioned.
In a country where individuals are often chided for being careless to the needs of others, the BSR team is doing much to buck this tired cliché. The best part is that they’re saving lives while doing it.
Anyone who witnesses a life-threatening emergency can call Blue Sky Rescue’s phone number 4006009958 (National) or 13686029958 (Dongguan).