UAS, unmanned aerial systems, can play a significant role in search and rescue (SAR) operations. There are a number of hurdles to deploying these assets successfully. In my role as advocacy director for the National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR) I’ve written position papers to address two of the hurdles:
- UAS deployment in support of SAR (and other disaster response incidents) requires professional UAS operators. At the present time, that means that all UAS operations must be performed under a valid COA either by public agencies or by Section 333 exempt operators. I wrote a paper for NASAR explaining this position and how public agencies and SAR volunteers can fly in support of SAR missions while complying with FAA policy/rules/guidelines.Here is the NASAR announcement which includes a link to the paper.
- Current FAA policy places three significant restrictions on UAS operations that make deployments extremely difficult and very ineffective:
- The operator must issue a NOTAM 72 hours before flying. (SAR is an emergency. UAS assets are extremely helpful in the early stages. Search is an emergency.)
- The operator must fly at or below 200 feet. (Imaging wide swaths of the area, operating in hilly or mountainous terrain, or establishing a communications relay with wide area coverage, requires higher altitudes.)
- The operator must not fly any closer than 500 feet to non-participating individuals or property. (Search subjects do not go missing in areas with zero population and no structures.)
To address these issues, Jason Kamdar and I wrote a proposal for a “First Responder COA (FRCOA)” to submit to the FAA. The document can be found here and the NASAR announcement about the paper and other related activity is here.