When an ‘en­emy’ comes to the res­cue

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - PRESIDENT'S SPEECH/ANALYSIS - For feed­back and com­ments: oneoga@gmail.com +263773202624. Oga Chap­wanya is an aca­demic, mar­ket­ing re­searcher, writer, trainer, and ed­u­ca­tion­ist. Read the full ar­ti­cle on WWW.sun­day­mail.co.zw Oga Chap­wanya

THEY are dif­fer­ent from what most peo­ple think they are. Though inan­i­mate, they have vi­sion that far sur­passes what the hu­man eye of­fers dur­ing res­cue en­coun­ters.

Touted as mon­strous ob­jects by sci­ence fic­tion movie scriptwrit­ers in the past, fly­ing ro­bots are some­what more func­tional than the most vig­or­ous of all res­cuers. Where the hu­man eye may pierce and fail to lo­cate vic­tims in a res­cue mis­sion, where all the like­li­hood of sav­ing peo­ple seems im­pos­si­ble, drones at least, bring a glim­mer of hope.

We are wav­ing good­bye to failed res­cue mis­sions, courtesy of un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles! In the past it was dif­fi­cult to lessen the vic­tim search time, amass in­for­ma­tion about the sur­round­ings of vic­tims, con­duct ac­cu­rate aerial as­sess­ment of dam­age from dis­as­ters, and send relief sup­plies in ex­tremely devastated en­vi­ron­ments. The ad­vent of drone tech­nol­ogy is bring­ing won­ders in hu­man­i­tar­ian work.

From foe to friend

Pre­vi­ously used for spy­ing pend­ing de­struc­tion of hu­man lives in mil­i­tary es­capades, drones now spy to save lives! Drones equipped with ar­ti­fi­cial neu­ral net­works can nav­i­gate through com­pli­cated trails even in re­gions of ex­tremely chal­leng­ing to­pog­ra­phy. Emer­gency moun­tain op­er­a­tions can be em­barked upon un­der ca­cophonous en­vi­ron­ments us­ing drones. Res­cue mis­sions by na­ture are tough. Relief op­er­a­tions in chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ments range from res­cues in moun­tains, from floods, earth­quakes, mine dis­as­ters, vic­tim search in caves, mud­slides, surfs, lo­cat­ing miss­ing air­craft, and search­ing for peo­ple in the wilder­ness. An ef­fec­tive res­cue mis­sion pre-empts the ad­verse ef­fects of weather that wipes out clues. The most suc­cess­ful mis­sions are those that ex­hibit rapid re­sponse re­sult­ing in ex­pe­di­tious care and at­ten­tion be­ing pro­vided to the ca­su­alty. Un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles al­low res­cue teams to nar­row their fo­cus on search­ing dis­as­ter vic­tims rather than on avoid­ing haz­ards. Ev­i­dence on the pres­ence of a vic­tim in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions is gath­ered through sen­sory op­er­a­tions and re­ported to a re­motely lo­cated res­cue team be­fore bad weather de­stroys it.

Post-quake dis­as­ter re­sponse Un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles are in­valu­able in hu­man­i­tar­ian work fol­low­ing earth­quakes. Presently they are be­ing used in film­ing and tak­ing pic­tures of ar­eas struck by earth move­ments. These videos and pic­tures are used to map out hard hit ar­eas pend­ing relief. The fly­ing tech­nol­ogy hov­ers above rem­nants of cities wrecked by the seis­mic quiver. Through in­frared, vis­i­ble light, hy­per spec­tral and mul­ti­spec­tral sen­sors, un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles glance over di­lap­i­dated build­ings and frag­ments of cities. They hand over the real time data and im­ages of the ru­ins to res­cue team con­trol and mon­i­tor­ing posts. Re­sponse squads can spot ca­su­al­ties and rush to save lives. In this way also, the ex­tent of dam­age from the con­vul­sion is promptly as­sessed. Res­cue and search op­er­a­tions are con­se­quently quick­ened up at low cost. Drones are proving to be less costly in these mis­sions com­pared to the use of he­li­copters and hu­man relief agents where time is of the essence. In­creased use of un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles was wit­nessed in the Nepal spasm of 25 April 2015 in which 9 000 peo­ple per­ished. China also de­ployed drones in the af­ter­math of the Sichuan quake of 2008 where 69 000 peo­ple lost their lives and 18 000 were re­ported miss­ing.

Floods Drones are op­er­a­tionally ap­pli­ca­ble in send­ing ad­vance flood warn­ings and re­spond­ing to flash floods. A trail of de­struc­tion is what floods can leave given that they come with­out warn­ing and in a flash just like that! Flash flood pre­dic­tions are now pos­si­ble in which drones gather in­for­ma­tion dur­ing a storm, send­ing it out quickly and ef­fi­ciently to the re­spon­si­ble author­i­ties and po­ten­tial vic­tims in the area un­der threat of flood­ing. Vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties can thus start va­cat­ing the place ahead of the im­pend­ing dis­as­ter. Well-con­structed un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle sys­tems pre­dict the spe­cific trail of in­un­da­tion. This af­fords cit­i­zens space and chance to be moved out be­fore they are plunged. The con­cept in­volves wire­less data trans­mis­sion from the drone to some cen­tral­ized data­base. An ex­cel­lent sys­tem of this cal­i­bre de­vel­ops a model of the flow of the flood wa­ter to give im­pres­sive flash flood pre­dic­tions. Un­manned craft sys­tems for this par­tic­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tion have been de­vel­oped in Saudi Ara­bia while flood-map­ping ap­pli­ca­tions have been tested in Tan­za­nia. Flood dis­placed land­mines can also be mon­i­tored us­ing un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles in the af­ter­math of the dis­as­ter. The Bos­nia-Herze­gov­ina ex­pe­ri­ence gives tes­ti­mony to this. Drones have been de­ployed in post-flood map­ping in the Philip­pines. Their use af­ter floods ex­tends to flood map­ping and storm dam­age as­sess­ment as ev­i­denced in Haiti. Not only are they use­ful in flood-relief. They are sig­nif­i­cant in post flood re­con­struc­tion.

Moun­tain res­cue mis­sions Hill climb­ing can be ex­cit­ing to hik­ers but many are times when some back­pack­ing ad­ven­tur­ist goes miss­ing. To save such a one timeously calls for the mo­bil­i­sa­tion of pro­fes­sional hu­man vol­un­teers who go forth send­ing out sig­nals to the lost hiker. Such per­son­nel some­times sur­vey the en­vi­ron­ment at the risk of los­ing more peo­ple from the search team where con­di­tions are rau­cous. More­over, the search for a miss­ing per­son is a race against time. He­li­copters and air­craft may not be dis­patched if the search is be­ing con­ducted in the even­ing. Be­sides, chop­pers are ex­pen­sive.

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