Houston Search and Rescue and Bulkley Valley Search and Rescue mapping during their winter camp weekend. (Submitted photo)

Burns Lake Search and Rescue looks to drones

The group hopes to have drones up and running by spring

  • Jan. 9, 2018 12:00 a.m.

Burns Lake Search and Rescue (SAR) plans to take part in a B.C. government pilot project to test unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.

An increasing number of search and rescue and public safety agencies in North America are using these tools to help ensure the safety and security of residents while keeping emergency personnel safe in their jobs. Owning a drone could be crucial during search and rescue missions.

“The concept [is to have] something small, portable and quick to deploy to look for tracks before everybody else has stomped the neighbourhood down,” said Eric Becker, associate member of Bulkley Valley SAR, which is working with the Burns Lake SAR to take part in the pilot program.

“[Drones are] just another resource we want to – at the local level – investigate and, especially at the provincial level, investigate further and see how effective they are,” added Bulkley Valley SAR manager Whitney Numan. “I think the benefit is reducing the risk to searchers when there’s some very difficult or steep terrain.”

At first, only search and rescue teams in the Lower Mainland were allowed to use drones, but after the project was extended to November 2018, search and rescue groups from across the province were encouraged to participate.

The teams that got approval to use drones relied on commercial operators to assist with their operations.

Because of the lack of commercial operators in the region, however, the Burns Lake SAR and the Bulkley Valley SAR plan to either buy or use their own drones for operations. There are only a few commercial operators in northern B.C. and they usually work with forestry, so they aren’t always available.

Ideally, both groups would like to get a drone with an infrared camera, but those models typically cost at least $15,000.

“We’re just at the very beginning stages, [so] we haven’t made any firm decisions yet,” said Numan. “The cost of the technology is certainly a limiting factor.”

Numan said even though they don’t have drones with infrared cameras, the groups will most likely use drones their members already own.

The Burns Lake SAR has two winged type drones, which can fly longer than a propeller type, plus a quadcopter type of drone. The Bulkley Valley SAR would use Becker’s drone.

If things go well, the groups hope to begin using drones in search and rescue operations in spring.

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