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Transforming On-Demand Emergency Communications with Drones: The Needs, Analyses and Solutions

The success of emergency response operations critically relies on the efficiency of emergency communications infrastructure. The transmission of massive amounts of data monitoring emergency conditions, coordinating management efforts and ensuring connectivity between survivors and emergency personnel, family and friends requires and necessitates a reliable communication infrastructure.

But, in spite of the broad coverage of Wi-Fi and cellular signals, it’s highly presumptuous to plan emergency response efforts on the existence of a well-functioning communications infrastructure, especially with infrastructure overload and heavy immediate-demand-based oversaturation issues which are well documented vulnerabilities. Such assumptions may not only jeopardize likely adeptness of any emergency response operation, but also become ingrained logical fallacies in preparedness, resulting in potentially devastating consequences.

Need for on-demand communication infrastructures

In emergency scenarios, the fixed information infrastructure may be destroyed, may not meet the surge of demand or simply may not exist. In such situations, an on-demand communication infrastructure is critical for the success of emergency response missions. For example, wildfires are a major natural threat to the United States because of their wide-ranging coverage, frequent occurrences and the significant revenue loss they cause. According to Congressional Hazards Caucus Fact, on average, the United States has 97,000 wildfires a year with a total of 4.9 million acres affected.

Federal agencies spend more than $1.6 billion each year to suppress wildfires. Besides revenue loss and public sector budgetary expenditures, wildfires produce both short-and long-term effects on ecosystems, place communities at risk and are often responsible for the loss of life of firefighters. As wildfires frequently occur in rural, mountainous areas and wild-land urban areas where commercial communication infrastructure is not available, the capability of quickly establishing a flexible on-demand communication infrastructure to obtain real-time fire information is crucial to resource planning and firefighter safety.

Lessons on the significance of on-demand communication infrastructures have already been learned from previous large-scale disasters. Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 blew down nearly 2,000 cell towers. The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned report stated that, “The complete devastation of the communications infrastructure left responders without a reliable network to use for coordinating emergency response operations.”

Read the complete report in the April/May issue of Homeland Security Today.

Dr. Yan Wan is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of North Texas and director of the Dynamical Networks and Control Laboratory. She is the recipient of the prestigious William E. Jackson Award for excellence in aviation electronics and communication from the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics.


Dr. Shengli Fu is an associate professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of North Texas and director of the Communications and Signal Processing Laboratory at UNT.


Dr. Pieter J. Mosterman is a senior research scientist at MathWorks in Natick, Mass. where he works on computational modeling, simulation and code generation technologies. He’s also an adjunct professor at the School of Computer Science at McGill University.


Dr. Justyna Zander currently is a system professional at Berner and Mattner Systemtechnik GmbH in Berlin, Germany.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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