Drones trialed by councils for disaster response

By May, 2017 ICT, Local
Councils in Queensland are testing to see if drones can be applied to effective responses in emergency and disaster management.

Image: Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ)

Queensland’s local government sector has developed an interest in drones, initiating a trial to test how the unmanned aerial technology can benefit council operations.

They’re a nifty device that first gained notoriety in the United States’ War on Terror, where the US military began using armed drones to destroy designated targets or conduct surveillance on suspicious sites.

But since drones have now become commercially available, hobbyists have enjoyed using them for leisure, companies like Amazon and services like Australia Post have flirted with using them for their own applications.

And now the local government sector in Queensland is conducting a live drone trial to investigate the future of drone technology use in disaster management.

Conducted by the Local Government Association of Queensland’s (LGAQ) subsidiary Local Government Infrastructure Services (LGIS), this trial is first of its kind in Australia, in Marburg, Ipswich, which will compare four software platforms to determine future opportunities for drones to fly greater distances aided by software during disasters.

According the LGIS the trial will bring together four separate software platforms and three drone operators using Telstra’s LTE mobile communications network.

LGIS director of business solutions Clinton Parker said the trial was a stepping stone to realising the full potential for the use of drones in local government, where current legislation requires pilots to fly drones within clear line of site.

“We’re only just starting to see a fraction of the potential of drone use by councils, particularly when it comes to community and worker safety in disaster management situations,” Mr Parker said.

“There are councils in Queensland already using this technology for things like asset inspections and surveys – work that can be done more safely and efficiently by drones.

“For us, the future potential for drones is not in dropping books or pizzas to households, but in helping protect human life and property during a disaster.

“This trial will give us a greater understanding of operations with the different software, how we can take advantage of Telstra’s LTE network and inform how we may be able to work will all parties, including regulators, to make beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) a safe option.

“As technology matures, we hope to not only track drones but control them using software – providing councils with the capability to deploy fleets of drones with low risk to help protect life and property.”

LGAQ innovation executive Lou Boyle said that while councils had used drones in recent disasters, the trial was unique as it provided a scientific approach.

“It’s a relatively new technology, and this trial is about understanding how various devices work with various software solutions, and to provide learnings that would benefit local government in the long term.”

The trial is stage one of three, with stage two aiming to have drones at-the-ready for BVLOS operations during disasters, integrating them into emergency management operations.

The trial will be conducted within airspace controlled by the Royal Australian Air Force’s Amberley Base and has been approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

The trial will combine four software platforms, Telstra’s LTE network and drones flying BVLOS to test disaster scenarios with real world applications, including:

Multiple drones undertaking a broad surveillance of an area – which could, during disaster, provide decision makers and on-the-ground disaster workers many options to capture real-time information

Undertaking a terrain survey – which could provide councils information on subsidence issues post disaster

An asset inspection of a bridge – post disaster would assist councils to get multiple bridge and other essential assets inspected quickly and efficiently without risking human life

Dropping a spare part to a mock water treatment plant – an application which could be used to drop medicines to families or tools to keep essential infrastructure operational

The trial was made possible through the financial assistance of the Local Buy Industry Development Fund.

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