FIVE MINUTES WITH: The drone pilot behind nationally-acclaimed Norfolk rescue mission

drone norfolk

Sergeant Danny deployed a UAV last week to search for Peter Pugh, after his family raised the alarm when he did not return home from a walk.

Sgt Leach, who was flying a DJI Inspire I, spotted Mr Pugh stuck in a dense reed beds and marshland and was credited with saving his life.

Following the rescue, which was a collaboration with Norfolk Fire and Rescue, Commercial Drone Professional spoke to the sergeant about the mission, as well as how drones have already aided the force and how he sees potential for growth.

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What equipment and software did you use for this mission and why was it well suited to this use case?

We used the DJI Inspire 1 VT, and we used a Z3 camera. We do have an XT thermal camera but in this situation we didn’t use the thermal because of the area we were searching.

Because we had already had helicopters up and they weren’t picking anything up from the thermal our view was that, potentially, we’re not looking for someone alive so thermal wouldn’t have been any good.

Secondly, when we actually did find the person only his head and shoulders were showing above water level and he had obviously lost a lot of heat, so on a thermal camera he wouldn’t have come up much bigger than a dot and because it’s a huge nature reserve there was loads of wildlife in those reed, his probably wouldn’t have been significant, so I think that’s why the helicopter didn’t spot him.

We were using the zoom camera, the Z3 with its 4k capability, so we could get a high-definition look, looking for visual.

Why did you specify the Inspire 1?

The reason we originally got the Inspire 1 was because it is the most cost-effective. Other forces have used it as an entry level drone and we saw it as a drone that probably won’t fit all of our needs and we are progressing to something like a 210 but it was a good level entry drone that would probably do 70% of what we need.

We’ve got two ourselves, we have two Inspire 1s with five batteries each, then we also have the Mavic Pro with six batteries and we have Norfolk Fire and Rescue who were there as well and they fly under our permission and have an Inspire One as well.

DJI have proved themselves capable for what we’re looking at this level. I’m not saying we’ll stick with DJI, we will obviously look elsewhere eventually but at this stage that’s what we have got because it fits the beginning stages of our project.

How were drones first introduced to the force?

I put the idea forward. I wasn’t personally interested in drones but I put forward the idea to my chief inspector when I worked near Thetford forest, as we dealt with a lot of missing people there and unlicensed music events. We have a process called the ‘Evidence Makes Policing’ fund, a bit like Dragons’ Den, and it is as scary as Dragons’ Den. We put forward our idea and they all sort of agreed whether they think it’s worth investing some money into it, or maybe come back when you’ve modified your idea. I have been working on this for nearly four years to get it to this stage.

What is the goal of where you’d like drones to be within the force?

I’m not at the level that can make that decision, but I would like to see that there is the capability to be able to get a drone to any incident in a big county like this within 20 minutes. A dedicated unit would be ideal as they would have the experience that could be deployed anywhere 24/7, but most likely it would be that we have hubs across the county where you’ll have a drone in a central location and you’ll have a number of trained pilots. If they needed a drone they could quickly take it to that incident. That’s where I see it, and I don’t see that being that far off.

What us your vision for the whole of the UK?

Drones will develop hugely. Once we get to a certain level that they are quite large and can cover large areas then that would fall rightfully under the remit of our police helicopter service, so that will have governance the larger machines. You’ll have drones like the ones we use at a local level and eventually most police stations will have a drone capability or your patrol cars might have a small drone in the boot.

Forces need to prove their capability and show they can do it safely before we get to that stage, but it’s working with the CAA, saying tighter on irresponsible users but actually for emergency services and when it comes to national security they’re actually given more leniency to fly.

In terms of regulation challenges, or other logistical challenges, what were some of the things you encountered during this mission?

The biggest one was that we work with our vehicle that is adapted so I can plug into the receiver and transmit the images to our control room where we’re still working on relaying so that if I’m out in the middle of marsh land and we’re on almost like a beach buggy, I don’t have that capability to live stream the images straight back to the people that are making the decisions about a mile away from me. I know there’s technology out there at the moment but that’s something I would look at developing more, and our mapping capabilities.

Tags : DJI Inspire INorfolkNorfolk ConstabularyNorfolk Fire and Rescue
Emma Calder

The author Emma Calder

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