Stick with the Tried and True
Part Two of Two.
Last week’s article about drones kicked up a lot of interest – and raised more questions. We’ll try to settle things down with this one! Its purpose is to answer three main questions.
1-Will a drone be useful for our Emergency Response team?
If you have a very limited budget, and your group is just forming, a drone should not be first on your list of investments. I’d probably start with basic communications gear (walkie-talkies), safety equipment (lights, vests, gloves, tools) and first aid items.
If you’re past that level, though, adding a drone could significantly expand the reach and the effectiveness of your team.
In a real emergency, one of our first tasks as CERT volunteers is to assess the state of our neighborhood so we’ll be able to call in and/or point professionals to places and people who need help.
Imagine how much faster and more accurately you’d be able to cover your territory with the help of a flying camera – i.e., a drone!
I think the answer to Question #1 is an unequivocal “Yes.”
2-What features do we need in a drone?
A CERT team is looking for a workhorse drone, not a racer or drone for aerobatics. Specifically, the best drone for emergency support would need to be able to:
- Fly in not-so-perfect weather. This requires a larger size and probably more weight.
- Carry something to a designated location. This requires a stronger motor, a way to attach an item, and a GPS to get the drone to the right place.
- Stay aloft long enough accomplish the task. As mentioned before, only the newest and most expensive models fly any longer than 20 minutes.
- Take reasonable-quality still and/or video images and transmit them back to the operator.
- Come out of the box nearly ready (for an amateur) to fly.
3-What model will work best for our Emergency Response team?
It’s at this point that I’d start looking for more human assistance to help compare different models.
First, do you have someone on your team with useful experience in flying, photography, wireless technology, etc? Can you bring more experience aboard?
Second, can you reach out to your local fire department for assistance and support? At first contact your local fire department may NOT think a drone is a good idea! Still, bringing disaster response experts into your thinking and planning can only improve your relationship – and result in a stronger team all around. (In preparation, check out this article about how professionals in Europe are training together using drones: http://www.dji.com/newsroom/news/dji-and-eena-release-white-paper-sharing-insights-for-improving-emergency-response-with-drones-in-first-responder-scenarios)
That said, here are the drones that look best for this purpose at this time. I hope our research will save you time and energy!
Stick with DJI Phantom 3.
Two years ago we recommended DJI Phantom 2. After much research, we’re sticking again with DJI, simply moving to the more recent models. Even though we’ve seen some complaints about customer service, the DJI drones get consistently high marks.
Whether you are looking for the high end, or the more accessible version, these machine have GPS navigation with auto takeoffs and auto landings. DJI provides the technology that connects the machine to your iOS or Android. Both have a built-in database of “no-fly” zones. (In fact, if you live near the White House, you may not be able to fly your drone at all.)
And both have just about the same flight time: 23 vs. 25 minutes.
Click on the images or the links below for full details.
Packaging and training: As you review these two models, note that different sellers may add more features to create a convenient package – items like extra batteries, a carrying case, cleaning equipment, etc. Consider your team, who will be in charge of the item, etc., as you decide exactly which package looks best for you. Training videos are available from the manufacturer and on YouTube.
And once again, please shop carefully, since prices at Amazon can change on a daily basis. And check to be sure you’re getting a true DJI product.
The Phantom 3 Professional has the highest quality video: a 3-axis 4k Ultra High Definition video camera that can stream live video directly from the drone, with DJI’s proprietary Lightbridge technology. It also has sensors (“Vision Positioning) that allow you to fly indoors. Its range is about a mile.
The Phantom 3 Standard model is at the other end of the 3 model spectrum. It has less range (more like 1/2 mile), less camera (still, probably more than you can use), and is advertised as the best way to get started “with no prior experience.” Start your research here.
Just a few more thoughts.
In general, it appears you get what you pay for in drones as in other tech gear. And, we have purposefully stayed away from the sexy models — smaller, quicker, high-techier – that true aficionados are likely to be all over. If you’re looking for a toy, or a gift, the DJI Phantom 4 or DJI Mavic may be perfect.
For your Emergency Response Team, we’d stick with the tried and true.
Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team
P.S. If you missed Part One of this series about drones, check it out. It has the rules and regulations you need to know!