According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, disasters caused $1.4 trillion worth of damage, 1.7 billion lives to be affected and 700,000 fatalities between 2005 and 2014. Around the world, governments and agencies have begun using innovative robotics and drone technology more frequently to provide lifesaving solutions when disasters hit.

To learn more, checkout the infographic below created by Eastern Kentucky University’s Online Masters of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management.

Robots and Drones Saving Lives in Disaster Areas Infographic

Natural Disasters

While some natural disasters can be predicted beforehand, others cannot. Avalanches, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters often come as a result of nature wreaking havoc. Unfortunately, these adverse events are fully capable of leaving damage, injury and fatalities in their wake.

Avalanches can be caused by earthquakes, overloading, snowpack conditions, slope angle, temperature or vibration. However, 90 percent of avalanches are triggered by people, usually either the victim or someone else in their party. Avalanches are most common either during or within 24 hours of a storm that results in at least 12 inches of snow. In 2014, avalanches in the United States caused $320,000 worth of damage, with 21 fatalities and 18 injuries.

Floods can be caused by excessive rain, melting ice peaks, overflowing bodies of water or ruptured dams, and they can lead to outbreaks of cholera, hepatitis A, typhoid and other diseases. In 2014, floods in the United States caused $2,768,490,000 worth of damage, with 40 fatalities and 20 injuries.

Hurricanes are spiraling tropical storms that can cause wind speeds exceeding 160 miles per hour and 2.4 trillion gallons of rain to fall each day. The Atlantic Ocean is hit by an average of five to six hurricanes a year. In 2014, hurricanes caused $3,690,000 worth of damage in the United States, due to a combination of crop and property damage.

An average of over 100,000 wildfires clear 4 to 5 million acres of land in the United States each year, with four out of every five fires being started by people. Wildfires in the U.S. are most prevalent in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, which are all Western states. In 2014, wildfires caused $325,030 worth of damage across the country, with two fatalities and 38 injuries.

UAS and Robotics Technology

By 2020, the market demand for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is projected to reach 4.7 million units across the globe, with the estimated market value of these technologies ranging between $2 billion and $127 billion. Likewise, the market demand for business and consumer robots is projected to reach $1.5 billion by 2019. While UAS and robots have many possible uses, one of the most promising solutions these technologies offer is within the realm of disaster relief.

UAS technology was first used by the military, due to its ability in remote tracking and reconnaissance applications. During early 2015, drone operations were approved by the government for use in 43 disasters across 13 countries, with 23 using ground-based systems, seven using maritime systems and 21 using aerial systems.

Drone technology is able to reduce exposure to unnecessary danger for many professionals, including claims adjusters, disaster workers and risk engineers. It is also cost-efficient, and can provide unique viewing angles that may not be possible when using manned aircrafts.

Robots are capable of completing a number of useful tasks, such as structural adjustment, logistics support, supply delivery, reconnaissance and mapping. They can provide assistance during a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive (CBRNE) event, and help with search and rescue operations, risk assessment and insurance claims response. This technology can even be used to help detect and extinguish wildfires and high-rise building fire response.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been offering companies rewards for designing robots capable of providing aid after natural disasters. The 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) awarded Team KAIST of South Korea a $2 million prize for designing the DRC-Hubo robot, which successfully completed eight natural-disaster-related tasks in less than 45 minutes.

Drones and Robots in Action

Robots have assisted with 49 disasters in 17 countries as of September 2016. Due to recent hurricanes in the United States, drone technology has been used to provide disaster relief in much more efficient ways than traditional human aid.

The first documented use of robots for search and rescue operations was during September 11, 2001 as robots could penetrate rubble two to three times deeper than cameras placed on poles.

After Hurricane Harvey, “the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) coordinated the largest known deployment of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) by public officials for a federally declared disaster,” according to information posted by CRASAR.

These UAS flights were meant to monitor the extent of flood- and tornado-related damage, conduct rapid spot checks, project the extent of river flooding, predict the amount of time that neighborhoods would remain inaccessible and provide the public with accurate information.

Drone regulations are currently stringent, but this could be changing. According to an article by U.S. News, “The FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] projects the eased regulations could generate economic returns of more than $82 billion over a 10-year window, while potentially creating more than 100,000 new jobs.”

As the top concern with UAS technology is safety, professionals in safety, science and emergency management must be prepared to solve problems related to disaster relief.

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