When disaster zones are inaccessible by ground—such as the areas of Japan hit by widespread and deadly flooding last week—news broadcasters typically take to the air, relaying footage from helicopters. In the city of Joso, Ibaraki, news helicopters captured dramatic footage of rescue teams winching people to safety from rooftops on Thursday after the Kinugawa River burst its banks.
But helicopters can only get so close, and so authorities in Japan are now using drones to capture footage in disaster areas. The drones can fly closer to disaster-hit areas than a manned helicopter, offering a different and dramatic perspective.
And drones are not only being used to survey these areas hit by flooding and landslides; they are also starting to be used in rescue missions.
The national Geospacial Information Authority, which is responsible for mapping and surveying Japan’s land, has released videos of footage captured by drones surveying the widespread flooded area around the Kinugawa River.
The resulting videos offer a lower-angled view of the area, offering a perspective that circling helicopters couldn’t have captured:
▼ Japanese commenters expressed shock at the scenes, with one saying “It looks like the Amazon or somewhere…not Japan.”
Two days of exceptionally heavy rainfall caused the Kinugawa River to break its banks, sending a wall of water that carried away homes and cars. The Geospacial Information Authority, which has its main offices in Ibaraki Prefecture, was able to use drones to survey the area and understand the extent of the flooding.
Elsewhere in Japan, drones are already being used to explore dangerous environments without putting rescuers’ lives at risk. Prefectural police in Aichi and Nara both began using drones to search for trapped survivors in training exercises this year. And unmanned vehicles have been used to explore volcanoes after eruptions, such as in Mt. Hakone, Mt. Ontake and Sakurajima.
Amongst the excitement about the possibility of increased use of drones, however, some voices called for caution:
▼ “Some people think we should use drones for everything, but they can’t be used all the time. And when rescue helicopters are flying overhead, drones could cause another accident.”
hik (@pori_pate) September 11, 2015
▼ “In a comparatively small disaster site such as this one, airspace needs to be clearly divided for rescue helicopters and drones [to avoid collisions].”
今回のように比較的狭い被災地だと、自衛隊等の救助ヘリと調査用ドローンの空域を事前に整理しておかないとね。川の上空20mはドローン空域かな。 国土地理院がドローン撮影した鬼怒川決壊地点の衝撃(dragoner) - Y!ニュース bylines.news.yahoo.co.jp/dragoner/20150…—
ZF (@ZF_phantom) September 11, 2015
As unmanned craft become increasingly common in disaster relief efforts, we’re sure there will be more discussion about the importance of avoiding causing any extra risk to rescue teams or disaster victims. But if drones can reach those in need more quickly and safely than traditional methods, that’s a step forward we should all be applauding.