Drones playing increasing role in disaster response: CAV Canada Panel

Drones playing increasing role in disaster response: CAV Canada Panel

By Scott Simmie


In recent years, drones have proven indispensable in the field of emergency services.

They’re routinely used to assess damage following disasters, to document serious accidents and allow roads to re-open sooner, for situational awareness during firefighting operations, Search and Rescue operations – and much more.

So as we head into a future of Smart Mobility and Smart Cities, it’s fair to assume that the role of drones will continue to grow. And that was the thrust of a panel at CAV Canada in Ottawa September 28 entitled “Aerial First Responders: Drones transforming emergency services.”

Moderated by InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece, the panel brought together experts from the world of drones, EMT, AI/Machine Learning – and more.


Philip CAV Canada Drone Panel



CAV Canada is an annual gathering devoted to the field of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. And drones are very much a part of that sector.

Down the road, it’s anticipated that automated drone deliveries of critical supplies – including medicines and even organs for transplant – will be routine in major urban centres. The US Federal Aviation Administration is already talking about setting aside specific corridors for use by UAVs to help ensure they do not conflict with traditional crewed aircraft. So that connected, autonomous future is coming – and emergency response will be part of that world.

The panel included experts from various specialties within the drone world. Those participating were:

  • Wade MacPherson, an Advanced Care Paramedic with the County of Renfrew and drone operator
  • Sharon Rossmark, CEO of Women and Drones and a commercial aircraft pilot
  • Dr. Robin Murphy, Raytheon Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University and a specialist in drones and disaster response. (Dr. Murphy was involved with deploying drones following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans back in 2005; the first use of drones in a US disaster scenario.)
  • Jason Chow, Director of Strategy and Business Development with Elroy Air. The company is manufacturing an automated delivery aircraft that can carry 300 pounds of cargo in a quickly swappable pod
  • Mathieu Lemay, CEO and Co-Founder of Lemay.ai and AuditMap.ai – and an authority on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Below: The panel. Philip Reece is on the far left; the other panel members appear in order above from L-R

Philip CAV Canada Drone Panel



When it comes to emergency response, there’s no question that drones are now firmly part of the tool kit. And lately, it seems, there’s no shortage of disasters.

“Unfortunately we’re seeing more and more wildfires, more earthquakes, more floods – even tornadoes,” said Reece as he kicked off the session. Paramedic Wade Macpherson said it’s routine to deploy drones in his line of work.

MacPherson said his paramedic organization has eight drones that are used regularly. They’ve been used to deliver prescription medications during floods, in Search and Rescue missions, and for situational awareness. Not only can drones gather data or deliver critical medications, said MacPherson, but they also help keep other professionals out of harm’s way. He sees great potential for their use in delivering Automated External Defibrillators, which are used to help cardiac arrest patients. Research in Renfrew County has shown that a drone can deliver an AED unit faster than a speeding paramedic vehicle.

AEDs by drone, he said “could be an enormous game-changer…time is absolutely critical.” In fact, the odds an untreated cardiac patient will survive diminish by 10 per cent each subsequent minute following the event.

Recently, said MacPherson, the Renfrew paramedics were called to assist in locating a missing Canadian Forces helicopter that had crashed. And again, drones were deployed.




Most drones deployed in emergency response situations are smaller machines – with the smallest weighing just under 250 grams. While such machines can still prove useful for Search and Rescue and situational awareness, a growing number of companies are manufacturing larger uncrewed vehicles capable of greater range and cargo. Elroy Air is one of those companies.

“Our sweet spot is 300 pounds (cargo) and 300 miles (range),” said Jason Chow. Because the Elroy Air vehicle is a fixed-wing VTOL, it takes off and lands like a helicopter – meaning it doesn’t require a runway. Its cargo pod can be rapidly switched out. Chow says carrying humanitarian supplies and disaster relief are among the use-cases for such aircraft.

“(The aircraft can carry out) Search and Rescue, monitoring wildfires,” said Chow. “But the main one for us is the cargo pods, being able to go from a supply depot and move the different kinds of supplies the firefighters need to potentially dangerous areas where you don’t want helicopters flying.”

Using drones, he says, takes the risk and cost out of the equation. Medical supplies, food, water – even fuel or batteries – can be carried in those pods.

Below: The Elroy Air Chaparral, with cargo pod


Elroy Air Chaparral

AI, Machine Learning, Autonomy


Where things get really interesting is when you start layering in enhanced capabilities such as AI, Machine Learning, and autonomous flights.

Systems such as SkyScoutAi are capable of being automatically dispatched the moment AI detects the beginning of a wildfire. Data about the location and intensity of the burn can be quickly relayed to emergency responders. In other words, there’s a human “on the loop” – rather than someone manually operating the aircraft via remote control. It’s faster, more efficient, and should lead to earlier detection and mitigation.

The Elroy Air system also involves automated flights – and the company is exploring automation for loading the cargo pods. In a natural disaster or emergency, this would also mean that critical goods get to the required destination more quickly.

“We want to be able to prepackage all the cargo into these cargo pods so that you don’t have to be there in a dangerous environment,” said Chow. “That’s what we’re thinking about, extending the capabilities and reducing risk.”

The potential for AI appeals to paramedic MacPherson. He explained that while he’s confident about his paramedic skills, he doesn’t have the same proficiency when it comes to drones. An automated flight path for search and rescue operations, he said, would be more efficient than a paramedic manually operating the craft. “I’m an expert in paramedics and ultrasound, but not at all the latest drone techniques,” he said, adding that using AI to optimise the search path would be useful.

There was agreement elsewhere on the panel.

“It’s all about getting the right information to the right person at the right time,” said Dr. Robin Murphy. “How do you get it to them?…So AI’s got a huge role to play.”




There was also recognition that emergency response requires specialised skills. In the early days, it was enough to simply know how to pilot a drone. Not anymore.

“A lot of people think it’s about learning to fly the drone,” observed Sharon Rosemark of Women and Drones.

“What’s missing is the specific applications and expertise…So really helping people understand that the drone is a tool, but within that there are other applications and other opportunities.”

Below: An InDro Wayfinder drone, which has been used in trials for prescription drug delivery to remote locations

Delivery Drone Canada



InDro has long been involved with drones (and now robots!) and emergency response. We’ve carried out prescription drug deliveries, Automated External Defibrillator trials, and even shuttled COVID test supplies for an isolated First Nations community at the peak of the crisis. We’ve seen, first-hand, just how valuable these tools can be.

“There’s no question that drones and robots have become essential tools for First Responders,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece. “It’s also pretty clear that their utility will continue to grow. AI and automation will add both to their value – and to the number of applicable use-cases. We look forward to helping to push the envelope.”

A final FYI: InDro has carried out specialised drone training for First Responders for many years. We are now able to expand that training to include ground robots at the Drone and Advanced Robotics Training and Testing facility at Area X.O in Ottawa (which also features a huge, netted enclosure for drone training and evaluation). If you’re interested, please contact us here.

Drones playing increasing role in disaster response: CAV Canada Panel

Port Coquitlam drone grant leads to new Fire and Emergency Services capabilities

By Scott Simmie


There’s no question that drones have become an essential part of the toolkit for First Responders.

Drones have proven themselves in Search and Rescue operations (including at night), for Situational Awareness in firefighting and disaster response, and as important tools in accident documentation that can allow police to more rapidly clear the scene and get traffic moving quickly again.

Now, the city of Port Coquitlam’s Fire and Emergency Services department has upped its capabilities thanks to two new drones and training – the result of a $30,000 grant from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM). The money was earmarked as “Community Emergency Preparedness Funding.”

Below: An image from Port Coquitlam’s Fire and Emergency Services web page

Port Coquitlam Drone Grant



Drones have proven particularly useful tools to firefighters. They not only provide the Big Picture from above, but drones with thermal sensors can see beyond the visible flames – identifying other hotspots not visible to the naked eye. A section of roof that might appear fine could, in fact, be close to combustion.

On May 6, 2019, drones played a huge role at one of the worst fires in the City of Victoria’s history. What would come to be known as the Pandora Street Fire would ravage an historical buiding and take a week to fully extinguish. On the morning it broke out, there was so much roiling brown smoke that firefighters couldn’t even see where the flames were. They immediately put an InDro drone, equipped with thermal sensors, in the air.

“If you’ve ever been to one of these big fires, the smoke is thick and completely impenetrable,” explained InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece in this story.

“You’re pointing the hose at where you think the fire is. Now you switch to thermal and it basically cuts the smoke – the smoke disappears. Now you see the heat coming up off the fire. You can actually follow it down through the different radiometric temperature colours to where the real core of the fire is.”

The image below was taken at the Pandora Street Fire and is courtesy the City of Victoria’s Fire Department. You can see, thanks to thermal, where the hottest spots are. It’s a clear example of how important an airborne thermal sensor is:


Pandora Street Fire FLIR thermal drone



The drones, purchased via InDro Robotics, are two DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise Thermal units. The camera provides up to a 56x combined optical/digital zoom, and the thermal sensor has 640 x 512 resolution. With flight times of up to 45 minutes, the pair of drones can be easily rotated for continuous situational awareness. The controller allows to displaying both visual and thermal imagery side-by-side.

“This is a great example of our city using creative technology tools to better serve and protect our community, residents and keeping our firefighters safe,” said Mayor Brad West in this news release

“Providing immediate access to real-time video footage, helps our firefighters make better on-scene decisions. We are grateful to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) for providing us with this grant that will positively impact our community.”



The grant also provides for training of those who will operate the drones – as well as to develop planning exercise scenarios for the City’s Emergency Operations Centre. Five Fire Department pilots currently hold their Transport Canada Advanced RPAS Certificates, and additional training with InDro Robotics will take place to in order to fully exploit the capabilities of the thermal drones and interpret the data.

The news release states that drones will be able to provide real-time information via live-streaming to the City’s Emergency Operations Center during incidents:

“A review of the current EOC practices, used to obtain information, suggests that more timely and reliable information can be obtained through the use of technology, such as drones. Using a drone to survey the site of an incident can reduce the risk of injury to first responders as well as give crucial information to the incident commander for planning response activities which can be livestreamed to the EOC.”


It goes on to outline some of the many benefits of drone use, including:

  • “Provides fast and efficient reconnaissance of the incident from a safe distance prior to sending first responders in to perform search and rescue operations;
  • “The use of drone mounted thermal imaging cameras assist first responders in identifying heat signatures of trapped or injured civilians who may not be easily seen or heard;
  • “Support City staff in pre-disaster planning efforts, e.g. geographic surveys and inspections of bridges, dams, and diking systems; and
  • “Provides staff with updated, accurate, high definition images for the City’s data collection.”

Councillor Steve Darling, the City Council’s designate for community safety matters, is quoted outlining why these drones are an important addition:

“The drone(s) will be used to support fire ground operations, relaying important information regarding fire growth and heat. This will also increase firefighter safety, allowing the department to keep an eye on firefighters working in hazardous areas.”

Below: A DJI video outlining the features of its Mavic 3 Enterprise drones




It’s been less than a decade since DJI released the original Phantom, which required a separate GoPro and was not capable of video streaming unless you really wanted to buy hobby parts and hack the camera to transmit. Drones were anomalies then, largely purchased by hobbyists.

But it wasn’t long before First Responders started seeing the potential. Some early adopters embraced the emerging technology, and it wasn’t long before word started to spread. It’s now routine, at pretty much any drone or First Responders convention, for presentations to be made showing real-world examples of how useful – critical, even – drones have become.

“The growth of drone technology has truly been exponential – and so have the use-cases,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.

“We’ve long been involved with drone training with Port Coquitlam Fire, and applaud the Union of British Columbia Municipalities for this forward-thinking grant. We look forward to hearing about the many ways these drones benefit Port Coquitlam Fire and the City’s Emergency Operations Centre.”

InDro has, for many years, trained First Responders and supplied specialized drones for their work. If your local First Responders would like to learn more about the capabilities of InDro drones or ground robots – including training at the forthcoming Area X.O advanced drone and ground robot facility in Ottawa – feel free to contact us here



First Responders find drones invaluable tools

First Responders find drones invaluable tools

By Scott Simmie

It’s no secret that drones have become an essential tool for many First Responders.

Emergency services frequently use these devices to obtain situational awareness – also known as “The Big Picture.” Police departments deploy them to search for missing people, locate suspects, monitor protests and collect images following serious collisions in order to clear the scene more quickly. Fire departments use them to monitor fires, detect hot spots, hazardous spills and more. And paramedics? Well, they’re using them too.

In fact, paramedics in Ontario used a drone – as first reported in this story – to assist during a Search and Rescue operation on a cold winter’s night early in 2022. Specifically, it was members of the Hastings Quinte Paramedic Services based in Belleville, Ontario.

Not surprisingly, that got us interested. And so we contacted Mike Slatter, Deputy Chief of Quality and Development, to find out more. As it turns out, we’d seen Deputy Chief Slatter make a presentation about drones back in 2019 in Ottawa at the annual national convention of Unmanned Systems Canada (now the Aerial Evolution Association of Canada).

We were really eager to learn more about how his team came to use drones. And, more specifically, how it uses them in some of its day-to-day operations. We found what Mike Slatter had to say fascinating – and believe you will, as well. FYI, that’s Deputy Chief Slatter in the image below, bringing in a drone for landing.

First Responder Drones

Paramedics do more than you might realize…


We started this off with a simple question. What do paramedics do?

Deputy Chief Slatter explained that in the case of Hastings Quinte Paramedic Services, there’s much more to the job than car crashes or calls to homes and businesses. Its rural catchment area means hunting accidents or injuries on farms crop up. The paramedics also assist local fire departments, sometimes offering medical assistance to firefighters who have just emerged from the heat and smoke of an active fire.

What’s more, Canadian Forces Base Trenton is nearby, and the service responds to calls there. Slatter’s team has also worked with members of the CFB Trenton Search and Rescue team, and sometimes receives occasional calls from CFB Mountain View, an airfield which also has a parachute jumping site.

That’s not all. Come summer, the area fills up with vacationers. There are boating accidents, drownings, injuries on the beach and more. So the workload involves a lot more than car accidents.

Drones enter the picture


With the help of a federal program, the paramedic service got into the drone world in 2018. Members of the service first did online training through InDro Robotics, followed by in-person flight instruction with InDro staff.

“I was fully impressed,” says Slatter. “Philip’s team was very professional; I thought it was very reassuring that Philip is so connected on the cutting edge of what’s going on with drones and safety. The experience was invaluable.”

Since then, the Service has deployed its DJI Matrice 210 and Mavic Pro Enterprise on a variety of missions, including Search and Rescue, house fires (using FLIR thermal imaging to detect hotspots), and even at a high school lockdown for situational awareness.

But not every drone mission is a dramatic, slam-dunk with a high-profile rescue. The real utility, says Slatter, is the ability to provide First Responders with that ‘big picture’ situational awareness.

“It gives you such a different perspective as to what’s going on,” he says. “The field of vision during the day is just amazing, and the camera technology is quite useful for zooming in and looking at things more closely to determine what’s happening.”

Let’s zoom in ourselves, and take a closer look at two recent incidents involving Hastings Quinte Paramedic Services.

First Responder Drones

Friday, January 28


Someone calls 9-1-1. They think they hear someone out on the ice at the Bay of Quinte calling for help.

It was still daytime, but the ice had a thick covering of snow – which would have made searching on foot a slow and laborious task. There was also a lot of ground to potentially cover, dotted with the occasional ice fishing hut. To give you a sense of scale, most of those huts were at least two kilometres from the shore.

“The Fire Department was there with their iceboat and team,” says Slatter. “The area we were looking at probably had a radius of five kilometres.”

With excellent visibility and a drone remote control monitor designed for high visibility even on sunny days, Slatter and his colleagues could monitor a live high-resolution video feed from the drone. With a background of snow and ice, it was relatively easy to scan fairly large areas as the drone flew overhead.

Scenarios like this make the drone what’s often termed a “force multiplier” – meaning the information it was gathering was greater than a single person could have acquired on their own. It also meant the Fire Department could pull its team back from the ice to wait on shore. There was no point in slogging on foot for kilometres when the drone could do the job.

Did it find someone? No. But it also revealed that no one appeared to be in distress in the reported area. That information was valuable for all the First Responders: Resources would not be expended where they were not required.

“Essentially nobody had to go out on the ice and it saved a lot of time – taking it from being an operation that would have taken several hours to about an hour or an hour and half,” says Slatter. “We were also able to cover areas along the shore that would have been difficult to get to, as well.”

Monday, January 31


Another emergency call, this time as dusk was approaching. A person who had been searching for a runaway dog had become lost in the Sandbanks Provincial Park. The Ontario Provincial Police also received the call, and asked the paramedics if they could bring their drone. The OPP, as it turns out, had limited resources due to the protests in Ottawa. Because of that, an OPP helicopter that might normally have been put to use was unavailable.

The OPP dispatched search teams on an All-Terrain Vehicle, and suggested a location where the drone might be most helpful. The paramedics launched their Matrice into the dark sky.

The drone’s FLIR thermal sensor is designed to detect differing levels of heat on the ground: The brighter the image, the warmer the object.

Thermal cameras are incredibly useful for finding missing persons at night, when the ground is cooler than during the daytime. A human being will display a relatively bright heat signature that contrasts the ground. In this case, you can see a paramedic ATV that seats two, also known as a Side-by-Side. Slatter scanned the area, searching for a bright spot that might indicate a person.

Emergency Response Drones

The drone was flown back for a battery swap, and then it was returned to the air. An OPP K9 unit had discovered some tracks that matched the description of the boots of the missing person. They were fresh. The OPP and paramedics, each in their own ATVs, began following those tracks toward a beach area. Slatterly returned the drone to the sky and began following the searchers while monitoring a much wider area from above.

“There are lakes on two sides of the area we were in,” says Slatter. “Because there are sand dunes, with the ice buildup there’s a lot of crevices along the shoreline. So the main concern was that the person had fallen or laid down due to being tired. By being up in the sky we could see a greater view than just a single person on the ground.”

Drone Detection

As the second set of batteries became exhausted and paramedics were returning the drone, word came in: The missing person had been located elsewhere.

‘Hey’ – you might think. ‘The drone didn’t find them.’ No, it didn’t – because they weren’t in the search area. But that is *precisely* the point in this case. The drone provided accurate intelligence that the missing person was not in a location being searched.

And that is absolutely valuable information that assisted First Responders.


“(It was) Very useful,” says Slatter. “We were able to cover a larger area and  eliminate areas where we felt the person wasn’t.”

And so, in these recent two examples – both occuring within a week – paramedics dispatched drones. These cases might not grab headlines in the way a dramatic rescue might, but the drone provided valuable data. What’s more, these examples are highly illustrative of just how much a part of the daily First Responder toolkit drones are becoming.


What’s next?


Drones are clearly now part of the workflow, when required. There’s also no question that the technology continues to advance. InDro Robotics, for example, has conducted numerous trials using drones to transport Automated External Defibrillators, transporting them to the scene of a simulated cardiac arrest. Drones tend to get there significantly faster than a paramedic vehicle. InDro has also delivered critical pharmaceutical supplies, such as an EpiPen (used to treat severe allergic reactions that can prove fatal) or Narcan (Naloxone HCI nasal spray), used for opioid overdoses.

You can see an example of this kind of work here:

And the future?


With successful trials of AED deliveries and pharmaceuticals delivered Beyond Visual Line of Sight, it’s not a huge leap to envision a future where such flights are routine. Where, for example, a 9-1-1 call for cardiac arrest might simultaneously dispatch an autonomous or remotely piloted drone to the site of the call. Or where an Epipen reaches someone in respiratory distress within minutes.

It’s a future Deputy Chief Mike Slatter believes could well be on the horizon as an important tool for First Responders.

“I think we are definitely on the cusp of that happening,” he says – adding that the Hastings Quinte Paramedic Services has purchased its own small AED for its drone.

“I think the potential for a small First Aid Kit or Narcan (delivered by drone), especially in the rural areas like we have here, definitely would have benefits… I think getting that device to a person even a couple of minutes ahead of a responding ambulance or First Responder could make a difference for a person.”

Slatter also has some final words about InDro’s training.

“It was very reassuring that (CEO) Philip (Reece) is so connected on the cutting edge of what’s going on with drones and safety,” he says. “You see a lot of different companies out there advertising drone training. And it calls into question: What is the standard for a training service? And I think that’s where InDro has set the benchmark. Our program really has credibility because of the training that we did with InDro.”

InDro’s Take


InDro Robotics has both deep respect for and a proud tradition of working with First Responders. We’ve helped train and outfit paramedics, RCMP and others across Canada, building solid relationships along the way. Drones have become an indispensable tool for Emergency Services, aiding in rapid decision-making, keeping First Responders out of harm’s way – and even saving lives. With advances in drone technology and ground robotics, we’re confident these devices will become an even more essential part of their toolkit in the future.

If you are a First Responder looking to gain drone skills or upgrade the skills of your team, there are a couple of InDro options. You can gain the knowledge required for your Basic or Advanced Remotely Piloted Aircraft Certificate online through an InDro course here. We also provide in-person instruction, anywhere in the world. Please get in touch.


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Victoria, BC, V8W 1J1

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