ITV show 999: Britain From Above shined the spotlight on the crucial role that drones are playing in public safety, from helping to find missing people to providing vital surveillance at a derby football match.
The prime-time programme was aired last night at 8pm and featured specific 'drones for good' case studies from numerous police forces, including Derbyshire and Norfolk who have both been supplied equipment by DJI Gold Partner and drone specialist, Heliguy.
The episode showed how unmanned aircraft - including DJI's range of drones and payloads - are being used for a cross-section of public safety and law enforcement work and narrator Paul Bown said that drones were helping to revolutionise emergency rescue.
Some of the main takeaways from the programme were:
- Three years ago, only a handful of drones were being used by our emergency services. Now there are over 200.
- Costing up to £6million, helicopters are around 100 times more expensive than deploying drones.
- Drones cover large areas quickly, provide vital information from above and because of their small and nimble design, they can be used for a range of missions, including when emergency crews need to get a close-up view of impossible-to-access places.
The show was a breath of fresh air for advocates of the drone industry, highlighting how unmanned aircraft is a vital tool for saving lives and fighting crime. It made a refreshing change from the usual anti-drone media, which often puts drones in a bad light and feeds the public with misinformation and over-the-top tales.
The programme was also shown on the same day that Heliguy Insider published an article about drones helping to save the lives of at least 278 people to date, and followed our recent interview with Romeo Durscher, DJI's Director of Public Safety Integration, about drones' role in this field.
In this Heliguy Insider blog, we look at some of the highlights from last night's 999: Britain From Above programme.
Norfolk Police: Drone Finds Missing Man
Because of their size, police drones can reach places that a helicopter can't. They can fly very low and search large areas for the smallest details, providing a crucial new tool for search and rescue.
This was demonstrated in one recent life-saving mission, where the drone proved to be the difference - rescuing a man who had been stranded in dense reed beds at Titchwell Marshes, Norfolk, for more than 22 hours.
In June 2018, a frantic mission was launched after Peter Pugh, 75, went missing.
Searching the reeds on foot would be slow and dangerous, so a Coastguard helicopter with a thermal camera took to the skies in the hope that Mr Pugh's body heat would be detected. However, stuck in the marshes, there was a danger that he would be too cold to spot.
With time ticking by, and with the search proving to be unsuccessful, another tactic was used. Norfolk Police and Fire Unit deployed a search and rescue drone.
Sergeant Danny Leach, Lead Drone Pilot for Norfolk Police, said: "I can put that drone only 20 or 30 metres above the marsh and really look into the reeds.
"If the helicopter has been over a few times and can't find him with a thermal, I'm going to use a different tactic, and I'm going to physically look for the signs of where someone's been, rather than relying on just heat alone."
The search from the air continued but, at 22 hours missing, any hope of finding Mr Pugh was slipping away. Then came that breakthrough, provided by the drone!
Sergeant Leach said: "I was doing a return trip just searching all of the waterways and as I swung around I could see what looked like another track that a deer had made and I just panned across and as I came to the end of that track I could see something in the water - and then I saw Peter!
"My words were - 'I have found him' and then my next were 'and he is still alive'. Everyone could see one drone in the air - it was virtually above him - and everyone could see where to head to."
Mr Pugh was rescued and safely airlifted to King's Lynn Hospital.
Sergeant Leach said: "I think without that kind of technology we would never have seen him for where he was. Without that drone, we wouldn't have saved him"
Norfolk Police: Drones Used For Surveillance At Norwich v Ipswich East Anglian Derby
The programme focused on how Norfolk Police used drones to keep tabs on rival fans at the firey Norwich v Ipswich derby football match at Carrow Road.
With only 19 police helicopters in the country, it is not always possible - or cheap - to call on a chopper for this type of work, while in this particular case, ground-based CCTV cameras were covered over by supporters.
Fly forward the drone. Quick, cheap and available to deploy, impossible for fans to take counter-measures, and offering unique and better views, the drone was sent into the sky to scan the crowd and send live pictures to officers on the ground.
This situational awareness was vital and helped police make sensible and proactive strategic decisions. This was proved at the end of the game when rival fans faced off outside the stadium, separated only by a flimsy barrier.
Describing how the drone helped, narrator Paul Bown said: "The drone footage from the crowd means police see the situation developing early. Ground forces are redistributed to the trouble spot and the situation is de-escalated.
Sergeant Leach told the show: "What the drone does is give you a really good indication of the crowd dynamics, so you can see as a crowd is moving whether there will be any problems."
Another Norfolk Police officer, who was not named by the show, added: "The use of drones in policing has changed the way we do things. The control room will be looking down and actually be seeing where the resources are. It just gives that much better overview of what is going on."
Derbyshire Constabulary - Drone Was 'Significant' During Whaley Bridge Dam Scare
Heliguy has supplied Derbyshire Constabulary with a range of DJI equipment, as well as drone-trained a number of officers from the Force, including its first female drone pilot, PC Victoria Atherton.
Earlier this year, we published a blog about how drones played a crucial role in the emergency response to the Whaley Bridge dam incident.
It was a major success story for drones - and last night's 999: Britain From Above gave particular attention to the incident.
After a month's worth of rain fell in just 24 hours, part of the dam wall collapsed, threatening a catastrophic disaster. Subsequently, 1,500 people were evacuated from their homes.
Derbyshire Constabulary deployed their DJI drone to inspect the situation, using the zoom camera to hone in on the damaged wall - providing vital information without putting any lives at risk in the process.
Drone Pilot PC Matt Moore said: "The damage was significant. We could see quite a lot of water spilling at that point and a lot of the clay sliding down. We knew it was serious and we had to do what we could."
PC Tom Gee added: "If we didn't have the drone, somebody would have had to go up close to the damage - scaling down on a rope down the dam to have a look and putting their life at risk."
To help sure-up the dam, large bags of aggregate were flown in by RAF Chinooks and dropped into the damaged section. The drone was able to check where the bags were dropped and look for any breaches, and provide instant, real-time information.
As previously mentioned, Whaley Bridge was evacuated. The drone was used to fly over the town to scan for people who were slow to leave as police cleared the area. Thermal imaging was also used to detect people moving in the darkness.
PC Gee said: "We were able to fly the drone over the town and identify anything that was moving. There shouldn't have been anyone moving about!"
Footage from the drones was also used as a video (below) which was played at a residents’ meeting to keep locals in the loop and to provide vital situational awareness.
Which DJI Drones Can Help Save Lives?
Heliguy is a DJI Gold Partner, a DJI European Enterprise award winner and looks after more than 40 of the UK's emergency services. We stock DJI equipment, including the M200 Series, Mavic 2 Enterprise drones, and a range of payloads to help with rescue missions and law enforcement.
The drones in the Matrice Series are powerful and rugged performers, with more than 30 minutes of flight time, boasting an IP43 rating and capable of carrying multiple payloads, including the top-class zoom camera, the DJI Zenmuse Z30 zoom camera; the XT2 thermal sensor; or third-party payloads, like cameras in the ViewPro range, or the recently-released U10 Methane Leakage Detector, Z15 Spotlight, or the FLIR MUVE C360 muli-gas detector.
Thanks to this capability, these UAVs offer plenty of scope for a variety of missions, from surveillance to search and rescue, and have become a firm favourite with the emergency services.
Aside from the Matrice Series, other drones available to help the emergency services include DJI’s Mavic 2 Enterprise and Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual; the latter having a thermal camera.
One of the perks of these drones is that they are small, foldable and easily transportable/deployable, and come with three accessories – a loudspeaker, dual spotlight and beacon. These tools can be invaluable in certain situations – for instance, the speaker can be used to provide vital information to an injured person from afar.
To learn more about any of the drones or payloads mentioned in this article, or to find out how Heliguy can start, support or scale your enterprise drone programme, send us an email, visit our website, or give us a call. If you are calling from the UK, dial 0191 296 1024, or if you are calling from America, call 862-298-5964.