An innovative UK drone retailer and training provider is turning heads in this fast-moving global industry. Coptrz promises the widest range of best-in-class commercial drones, payloads, software and support available anywhere in the world.
Coptrz’ holistic approach – together with its technical expertise across the board – means it can bring top-class drone solutions to a wide range of industries and sectors, including public safety and disaster response. The company’s service offerings include bespoke drone strategies, expert consultancy and lifelong training for emergency services personnel.
Hazardous situations from urban building fires to natural disasters are an ideal application for drones. Just like bomb disposal operations and space exploration missions, these incidents pose numerous dangers and difficulties to vulnerable human responders – yet they require swift human intervention, specialist knowledge, effective collaboration and the rapid transfer of essential information.
As public safety experts the world over are now seeing, drone technology can enhance all these crucial activities without further endangering lives or property. Commercial drones can also be used in situations where traditional manned aircraft would struggle to operate – because of poor visibility due to thick smoke, for example, or because of particular challenges presented by the precise location or local environment of the fire.
The New York Fire Department saw the benefits that drones can bring to a challenging emergency response situation after a gas explosion in 2014, which killed eight people and flattened two buildings. A member of the public sent up his own device and captured images that gave a clear aerial view of the scene.
In 2015, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service became the first UK force to have 24-hour access to drone support.
A bird’s-eye view
Small, light and agile, drones are easy – not to mention cost-effective – to transport and deploy. Safer to send into a dangerous situation than piloted aircraft, they can also fly much closer to the ground (they don’t create the same air disturbance as helicopters), giving them a far greater degree of accuracy and flexibility. This allows them to gain access to confined spaces, dangerous vantage points and other hard-to-reach areas.
Weighing less than 25kg and never needing to be recharged, the RPAS-VTOL drone has been hailed as the first true competitor to manned helicopter aviation. The two-blade, single-rotor, unmanned helicopter can be carried, fully assembled, in an estate car or small van.
Getting the full picture
Aided by cameras like the Zenmuse X3 or X5, drones can help fire teams assess a fire’s likely path, as well as any objects or areas at particular risk. Able to produce high-resolution, geo-referenced stills and 360-degree video images, the cameras can be controlled while the drone is airborne. HD digital video downlink systems allow operators to view and record live-streamed footage, while video feed output enables secure re-transmission to remote commanders.
Used in conjunction with video and infrared cameras, drones can provide on-demand data to fill in the gaps in firefighters’ understanding of an incident. For instance, it may not be possible to assess from the ground whether water is being accurately directed at the source of a large building fire. An aerial view may be needed to get an accurate picture of the developing scene and ensure the best use of resources.
As well as offering a unique perspective not otherwise available to first responders, drones create exciting new possibilities for existing technologies. Paired with thermal imaging cameras like the Zenmuse XT FLIR, they can complete thermographic inspections from the air, reaching areas that would be inaccessible to hand-held or helicopter-mounted thermal imaging devices. Whether they are used to identify hidden hotspots or assist with search and rescue, thermal images can be critical to an effective incident management plan.
Post-incident, a drone with thermal imaging capability can identify areas that have reached safe heat levels, keeping firefighters’ safety paramount in the aftermath of an emergency.
The initial reconnaissance stage of any emergency response can seem frustratingly slow, especially when the severity and scale of the incident is accelerating fast. As last year’s devastating wildfires in Alberta, Canada showed, the erratic behaviour and astonishing speed of these natural disasters and the enormous areas they can affect make rapid deployment of fire suppression tactics essential.
In a wildfire situation with no drone technology available, fire officers might have to walk significant distances with heavy equipment before they can even begin to assess the scene. A drone can, in contrast, be deployed within minutes.
Little surprise, then, that the Alberta government requested drone back-up as the region’s wildfires spread. The DJI Inspire series models – supplied by a company that usually provides its drone services to oil, gas and mining companies – used infrared and ultraviolet sensors to detect the hottest areas of the inferno and identify where the fire began.
While in many ways the polar opposite of wind-driven wildfires, fires in high-rise buildings can also benefit from drone technology, which can safeguard both lives and property.
Even within the confines of a blazing building in a busy urban area, the swift dispatch of a drone can dramatically reduce the time needed to assess structural damage, identify the source of the fire and any associated hotspots, and pinpoint the safest route into the building. Real-time data-gathering by drone can locate casualties and save lives during those first critical moments, when a structure may not be easily accessible by fire service vehicles and personnel.
Many of the safety concerns particular to densely occupied indoor spaces have been addressed by innovations in the drone industry – and specifically by devices like the Elios from Flyability. Described as the first collision-tolerant flying robot, the Elios allows access to the most complex and cluttered of indoor places.
Dynamic incident response
In any fire situation, indoor or out, dynamic incident response is key. Risk assessments must be ongoing and management decisions flexible. The safety of members of the public and firefighters is of primary importance, and all those at risk must be monitored and their locations managed. And, post-incident, damage must be assessed and causes investigated.
Drones’ real-time footage makes this dynamic problem-solving much more of an exact science. Furthermore, many of the most sophisticated devices have a remarkable capability for situational awareness. Clearly, advances in this area pay huge dividends in the unpredictable world of emergency response. Drones such as the DJI Inspire 2 make use of additional cameras to enhance both their positional awareness and their ability to avoid obstacles.
Planning for the future
Increasing numbers of firefighters and other emergency service workers are now preparing to use commercial drones in a wide array of rescue operations. As with any such innovation, the challenge for the future is to ensure it is integrated safely, maximising benefits and addressing any limiting factors.
With this in mind, China-based market leader DJI continues to invest heavily in research and development, often collaborating with other public safety agencies and with its appointed Enterprise Partners, who are industry specialists.
In partnership with the European Emergency Number Association (EENA), DJI has provided emergency service workers at selected sites with intensive training and support, before sharing findings and best practice guidance with emergency responders worldwide. One of the first test sites was the Greater Copenhagen Fire Department in Denmark.
The sole UK-based DJI Enterprise Partner, Coptrz is also the world’s only provider of continuous training for drone pilots. With courses for emergency personnel on everything from thermal imaging to 3D mapping, Coptrz makes cutting-edge drone technology a game-changer for fire safety experts everywhere.
For more information, go to www.coptrz.com