How Drones Are Reshaping The Future of Search and Rescue (SAR) - 1UP Drones

How Drones Are Reshaping The Future of Search and Rescue (SAR)

Drones have become a necessary tool across many industries in the past few years. Engineering, agriculture, construction, mining and more have adopted drones into their everyday business tools. Drones are efficient and can save both money and time which are the most alluring benefits. The technology is constantly advancing and more industries are beginning to utilize them and realize their benefits.   Recently, 1UP collaborated with a surveyor on 1800 acres in Ridgeway, CO that is estimated to reduce time on the land surveying by 90%. However, one of the latest ways drones have started being used is aiding in SAR or commonly known as search and rescue. 

1UP Case Study # 1 – Alabama US Marshall, Cordell Foster

Earlier this year, 1UP Drones sold a Yuneec H520 with CGOET sensor to US Marshall Cordell Foster. After receiving a CHINS (Child in Need of Supervision) runaway call about a missing young person during the night, Foster decided to put his drone to work that is equipped with a CGOET thermal imaging and a low light camera. 

“With it being dark and cold outside, I decided to use my Yuneec H520 drone to see if she was in the wooded area surrounding the complex,” said Foster.  The H520 is a SAR (Search and Rescue) drone. It is equipped with the CGO-ET thermal imaging and low light camera with a limitless 360° view. The drone was launched near the pool area where Foster searched the immediate area and thought the subject might possibly be located. 

While panning back and forth near the creek he had negative contact at that point. He then decided to fly slightly higher and focus near the subject’s apartment. “I could see a hot spot (hands and legs) of what appeared to be a slender built person walking on the back side of the complex.  Most of the body heat was contained by a jacket or pull over. I noticed that the person was walking back towards an apartment through the breeze way. “The person then entered the front door of the apartment,” said US Marshall Foster.  Foster landed the drone, placed it back in his patrol vehicle, visited the apartment, and safely brought his missing person home to the family that had called in the CHINS order. 

1UP Case Study #2 – Caerus Oil & Gas, Chevron Ranch – Garden Gulch Truck Accident & Recovery Effort – May 20, 2020

1UP Drones was recently contracted to assist in a very unfortunate Caerus Oil and Gas vehicle accident. The truck went over a 1500+ foot cliff just outside of Parachute, CO. 

“The driver is very lucky to have survived and is still recovering from multiple fractures and punctured lungs,” said Zane Lay, Surface Land Manager with Caerus Oil & Gas.  1UP was hired to determine whether there was potentially hazardous materials leaking from the vehicle and if it was possible to safely extricate the vehicle via helicopter (or other methods).  We carefully analyzed the extremely dangerous site and provided multiple plans to assist Caerus to determine the best measures to take.

What did 1UP do to assist?

  1. Manual flight capture for maximum control to provide high powered zoom capabilities from the Inspire 2 aircraft
  2. 1UP Aerial Services mapping from the Phantom 4 Advanced aircraft
  3. As a bonus, once the above primary work was completed, we provided a spectacular panoramic view of the area as it was beautiful, in spite of the tragic accident.

We safely captured all requirements for Caerus and they are analyzing the area to review the next steps.  If you would like more details of the accident, please review the images of the accident, one of the actual videos from the drone, and spectacular panoramic views to see the beautiful area this unfortunate accident took place.

Outside of 1UP, how else are drones used for SAR?

Just this past month, a father and daughter were rescued with the help of an infrared camera drone. The family was on an excursion on the San Joaquin River in California.  Their canoe had capsized and the drone was able to locate the pair. 

After the police department received the call of the incident, the drone was able to scan the area quickly to find their whereabouts. The rescuers were then able to pull out the daughter safely to land while her father held onto the boat. There is drone footage that captures the entire rescue which you can see here from Rick Smith, the police sergeant’s, Linkedin page.

Supposedly, several people die in this river every year. We are thankful that drones are a wonderful tool to help save lives in this situation and in many others.  

Ways drones can help with search and rescue

Clearly, search and rescue missions can come about in many different ways. Workers are not able to reach certain areas in a natural disaster, fires may limit where rescuers can safely go and law enforcement cases can cover an extremely large area. 

Drones are able to cover miles of ground in minutes whereas on foot searching can take hours to scan a whole area. As mentioned earlier, they also have infrared or thermal cameras which help to find people in a low visibility environment or at night. Of course they are not foolproof but drones can be a cost effective and very efficient tool for 1st responders during search and rescue missions.

In addition, drones can also carry goods to victims in hard to reach areas where they are stranded to help them survive. 

Natural disaster rescue

Natural disasters occur across the world every year. Mudslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc. devastate communities and oftentimes people will go missing. Using drones in these situations can be pertinent to find people in need of rescue. Sometimes the area has difficult terrain to navigate or it is dangerous to scout after a disaster. Drones can use thermal imaging to quickly find individuals in danger. 

Drones also have technology to assess the damage made to buildings after or during a natural disaster. After analyzing results and making 3D models, it is possible to find places where people may be trapped.  First responders can combine artificial intelligence (AI) with a “last known post on twitter” to understand the color of clothing that that person was wearing. This reduces the search time to a fraction of the time 1st Responders have traditionally used. 

Fire rescue

Drones can also be very useful during fires whether it be in a business, home, or forest. The HD camera on drones can capture real time footage. This lets firefighters know what they are dealing with and how fast the fire is growing. Thermal cameras can also signify how dangerous the flames can be and where the “hot spots” might be located. 

Thermal cameras can also detect where trapped victims may be. Rather than exploring the entire area, firefighters can pinpoint the exact location of those who are trapped. All while keeping themselves safe as well.

Law enforcement rescue

Police will sometimes work on cases that involve missing persons or rescuing those in danger. Since drones can scan an area very quickly, they can help in hostage, terrorist or kidnapping situations among others.  For similar reasons listed above, drones can find people quickly with the different types of cameras. This ultimately saves more lives. 

Future of search and rescue with drones

Any new development in technology takes time for full adoption by the masses. Not every industry can utilize drones to their fullest potential. However, drone usage in search and rescue will likely become more prominent. According to DroneDeploy, in 2014 there were hardly any fire departments using drones. After six short years many realize the incredible benefits that they can offer. Now, over 180 departments across the country use them for search and rescue or other tasks. Police departments have also increased their usage in drones. 

Of course, as drone technology continues to advance, further interest will follow. Furthermore, search and rescue missions will frequently utilize this efficient, cost effective, and safe tool. 


If we can assist in your 1st Responder Program or you simply have questions, please contact us at  303-578-6613.  Mention “1st Responder” (you must be law enforcement or fire department). We will provide you with a discount on your 1st drone service, drone purchase, or training class from 1UP.