Kamloops Search and Rescue volunteers say they’re hopeful the province will green-light drones for SAR use in the near future.
The the team partnered this weekend with local commercial operator Hummingbird Drones for a training exercise, testing infrared cameras for rescue use.
Currently, SAR teams aren’t allowed to use the devices on actual rescue operations.
But Kamloops Search and Rescue manager Alan Hobler says he hopes to see that change soon.
“Hopefully the sooner the better. Because I can see a very real application for this saving lives, and removing a lot of our searchers from risk as well.”
He says drones aren’t just cheaper to use, they’re actually safer than helicopters.
“The helicopter has to fly quite low to the ground to be effective, and you have to have several searchers on the helicopter, and so that becomes quite dangerous.”
He says on top of that, helicopters can’t fly at night, whereas infrared equipped drones excel in the dark – as the team found out on their exercise.
“They actually work better when operating at night.”
Earlier this year, Emergency Management BC turned down an application from the BC Search and Rescue Association for a pilot project to use the devices in rescue operations.
At the time, the government said flight operations, data management, operator certifications, and privacy issues needed to be worked out, but that it would consult with stakeholders.
Since then several search and rescue teams, including Coquitlam, have partnered with companies in the private sector to test the tools.
But they still can’t fly during rescue operations.
Hobler says he thinks they can overcome the roadblocks, and hopefully soon.
He says part of the answer might be teaming up with private operators like Hummingbird.
“Because they’re a commercial company, they’re already set up with all the licensing and all the regulations surrounding the use of drones, so it seems like it would probably be a pretty easy transition for Emergency Management BC to adapt that.”
He says he’ll be sitting down with government officials soon to try and move the process forward.
“We’ve had some initial talks, I’m hoping to speak with them again this week, and we’ll see where it goes. There are other teams testing drones around the province, but none using infrared. So we’ll see what’s coming out of those projects and see if we can adapt them for search and rescue.”