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  • News

Taking things to new heights

Monday, 9th January, 2017 7:10am
Taking things to new heights

George Vladisavljevic and Tim McKnight of Cork West Civil Defence during a demonstration of drone capabilities at Lough Hyne. (Photo: Garry Minihane)

Brian Moore met recently with members of local Civil Defence units who are being trained in the use of drone technology to assist in search, rescue and recovery operations

WEST CORK’S Civil Defence has added the latest state-of-the-art technology to its arsenal of equipment.

While drones may have been the must-have ‘toy’ for many children at Christmas, the drones deployed by the Civil Defence units, not only in West Cork but also across the country, are as far from a children’s plaything as you can get – especially in the context of locating a missing person, or indeed saving someone’s life.

‘The West Cork Civil Defence brigade was set up when the first units were established back in 1951,’ Niall Twomey, Area Civil Defence Officer Cork West, told The Southern Star.

‘While the West Cork branch is now a standard and well-integrated part of the local emergency response system, we have to stay in touch with the latest technology available.’ Members of the 55-strong West Cork unit are trained Casualty and First Aid practitioners at CFR, EFR, EMT, Paramedic and Advanced Paramedic level; swiftwater technicians and responders for flood response and evacuation tasks or flood pump operations in support of the Fire Service and Local Authority, and boating operations for coastal and inland waterway searches.

However, when it comes to a missing person search response mission, the unit can now call on its very own trained drone pilots to provide a bird’s eye view of a search area, a resource that has already proved invaluable. ‘The drones not only expand the search area but are also able to direct search teams away from areas that are inaccessible by foot,’ Tim McKnight, drone pilot with Cork West Civil Defence said.  

The Civil Defence now has ten fully-trained drone teams across the country, leaving very few areas without the ability to call on the services of these specialised units. ‘The drones, which can fly in most conditions, have already proved their worth,’ Cork West Civil Defence pilot George Vladisavljevic explained. ‘During search operations, we can use the drones to pinpoint a person’s location and then direct the search teams and the follow-up services to that exact position.’

The drones are lightweight and can be deployed and operated by pilots on foot or from a central control vehicle. ‘We can transport the drones, by foot if needs be, to the search area and then within a matter of minutes the drone can be in contact with the search teams,’ explained Chris Bristow of Cork South Civil Defence. ‘We can also relay video directly back to a command vehicle so that the operation can be co-ordinated with other search teams that may be in our area of operation.’

The aerial drones are not only employed within the search and rescue role; the new tech has also proved invaluable when it comes to monitoring and preparing for other events as well. David Good of the Cork South branch of the Civil Defence explains, ‘We use the drones to monitor rivers and to assess areas for possible flooding. This enables local authorities to make decisions as to where and when the best resources should be deployed.’

In West Cork, the drone teams have been tasked by the local fire brigades to help monitor and detect gorse fires. ‘The drones can fly in most conditions, except rain,’ Chris Bristow said. ‘Even in heavy wind conditions we can keep the drone in the air. However, these conditions do reduce the flying time. We can also deploy cameras with both thermal imaging and zoom capabilities, which have proved invaluable when it comes to operating in hard-to-navigate or hard-to-access areas.’

‘With drone technology changing so fast it is critical for us in the Civil Defence to ensure that we stay abreast of any new developments. We will continue to ensure that our aerial drones and our teams are ready to respond to any request or incident that might come our way.’ Niall Twomey concluded.

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