Humanitarians in the sky

UAV group links drone pilots with humanitarian groups He bought the original DJI Phantom just to play around with. But he also happened to be working with the UN in Manila, Philippines in 2013, when Typhoon Yolanda struck. “I was there, and I kept coming across UAV project after UAV project,” he said. “There were […]

UAV group links drone pilots with humanitarian groups

Patrick Meier started off in the drone community with a story familiar to many. He was interested in photography as a hobby.
He bought the original DJI Phantom just to play around with. But he also happened to be working with the UN in Manila, Philippines in 2013, when Typhoon Yolanda struck. “I was there, and I kept coming across UAV project after UAV project,” he said. “There were a dozen projects.” Visit this page to learn more.

Aerial images with word "help"
From above it’s easier to see where help is needed.

The issue? None of the projects were communicating with each other or sharing imagery.“Eventually I starting trying to put them in touch with each other,” Meier said.

That’s when he launched the Humanitarian UAV Network, UAViators.org,

A global network of civilian/hobbyist UAV pilots who safely and responsibly fly UAVs to support peaceful, humanitarian efforts.

Meier, whose extensive resume in humanitarian efforts includes cofounder of Crisis Mappers Pre-
Doctoral Fellow at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Crisis Mapping Program at Harvard University, found that often drone pilots want to help in a disaster situation. But problems arise when they aren’t trained in appropriate humanitarian response techniques.

“We should not expect UAV groups to be experts in humanitarian response,” he said. “Meanwhile we (humanitarian groups) are the last adopters of every technology on the planet.” Merging the two groups could be the perfect Match.com-esque pair, Meier realized. Pilots who have joined the network can post their location, equipment and work they are capable of doing, while a group needing a volunteer drone pilot can easily find someone to do the job.

screen-shot-2014-06-24-at-2-34-36-pm
Drones can carry supplies as well as document the situation.

While in the Philippines, Meier was able to connect a number of projects that extend throughout the life cycle of disaster response, including:

  • identifying areas where NGOs could set up camp
  • identify how badly houses had been damaged
  • gather information about road clearance operations to identify which should be prioritized for
  • clearance
  • search and rescue
The Humanitarian UAV Network is open to all UAV pilots, but works closely with Air-Vid to search specifically for the global network of Air-Vid’s professional pilots. “Having a link to a vetted, trusted network is critical,” he said.

“Say the UN needs a drone pilot. We can ping Air-Vid.”

The Humanitarian UAV Network also is working to establish a code of conduct. But you won’t find a PDF

of it anywhere on the Internet. “It’s deliberately an editable Google Doc, because it’s a community process,” Meier said. “I don’t think

there ever will be a final draft.”

Want to donate your drone expertise to a humanitarian cause?

Meier has some quick tips you should

know:

  • Read the UAViators Code of Conduct
  • Community engagement is key. Keep the community involved in your UAV use and share the
  • imagery that you have gathered
  • Respect personal privacy and remove identifiable information
  • Post aerial videos of disaster areas to the Disaster Map (insert link: http://uaviators.org/map)
  • Share metadata, which could be more useful than just a map stitch
  • Create flight plans for complex operations and share them with nearby UAV operators

Drones have a place in vastly improving the effectiveness of humanitarian response, Meier said.

“Aerial photography is a part of the solution,” he said. “It’s a game changer.”

– thank you to our contributing editor Sally French @TheDroneGirl

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