British Columbia

B.C. search and rescue drones to take flight in new year

Emergency Management B.C. has approved a pilot project that allows some search and rescue teams in the province to use drones to assist in search efforts in the new year.

Drones can be used to help search, locate, and drop supplies for stranded people

Drones can be used not only to search and locate stranded individuals, but can be used to drop off emergency supplies like warm blankets, food, and water. (Johns Hopkins Medicine)

Some search and rescue teams across B.C. are getting a new tool in their arsenal in the new year: drones.

Emergency Management B.C. has approved a pilot project that allows some teams across the province to use drones for search and rescue purposes.

Mike Coyle, a manager with Coquitlam Search and Rescue, said Coquitlam, Kamloops, Ridge Meadows and Surrey search and rescue teams are among those part of the project.

He said drones will help assist in situations where a helicopter isn't available or the area cannot be reached by aircraft.

"One search we responded to in Maple Ridge was down in a canyon, and it was too narrow for a helicopter to get down in there," he said. "[With a drone], you may be able to fly in a situation where a helicopter couldn't."

Drones can be equipped with different kinds of sensors like infrared for night vision or radios to extend the range of communication, he said. Emergency supplies could be attached to a drone and dropped off to stranded individuals.

Coyle said drones have been used on an ad hoc basis in search and rescue efforts in B.C., but widespread use has been limited due to the privacy concerns. This project has been formally reviewed by the province's privacy commissioner, he said.

"Even in the wilderness, I think it's just a way people have seen [drones] as an invasion of privacy," he explained. "Our intent is to just use them to look for missing people in the wilderness and not fly over built up areas, and that's why I think the privacy commissioner said it's a good use."

Coquitlam Search and Rescue will be contracting the use of drones through a private company, in the same way it has contracts with helicopter and other aircraft operators.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the segment, click on the link labelled Coquitlam SAR gets a drone