Aerial information gathering offers substantial advantages in the framework of the Austrian National Crisis and Disaster Management (SKKM – Staatliches Krisen- und Katastrophenschutzmanagement) as it enables both fast attainment of the overall operational picture and in-depth insight at particular points of interest. Search & rescue missions in the framework of a disaster response represent a typical example for such use of aerial vehicles, which come along with substantial personnel and equipment costs (typically helicopters). In order to reduce the corresponding expenses and the efforts of the first responders, it is reasonable to consider accomplishing such missions using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that are equipped with appropriate sensors, i.e., laser scanners, cameras for visible and infrared spectrum and multispectral cameras. Furthermore, the usage of UAVs bears great potential in the mitigation phase of the disaster management process, e.g., in the framework of the annual torrent inspections which are performed by the Austrian municipalities. In this way, potential damages inflicted upon important infrastructure, e.g., bridges, roads or even inhabited areas can reliably be avoided. It is important to underline that in the current setting torrent inspections are associated with great efforts and non-negligible risks for the experts performing the procedure, as the corresponding terrains are often topologically very challenging. As a result, the project AREAS (Aerial search & Rescue support and supErvision of inAccessible terrainS) follows a modern research design in order to investigate UAV and sensor technologies for performing the delineated search & rescue and torrent inspection use cases in the most time- and resource-conservative manner. Apart from its focus on the precise formulation of all involved stakeholders’ (Federal Ministry of the Interior, Federal Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism, Federal Ministry of Defense, Federal State of Styria, Federal State of Vorarlberg as well as further four federal states, the Austrian Association of Municipalities and the Bavarian Mountain Rescue Service as Letter of Intent partners) requirements and on the realization of a field-testable proof of concept, AREAS will follow an extensive interdisciplinary approach in order to address the societal and legal issues related to use of UAVs in the context at hand. The performed research work regarding the required organizational measures, the legal framework and acceptance by the general population along with the results in the technological domain, especially regarding their realization as a proof of concept, will serve as a basis for a sustainable implementation and operationalization of AREAS in a nationwide context. The described paradigm will ensure that AREAS makes substantial contributions to the safety and well-being of the Austrian population in the years to come.
The project AREAS is funded by the Austrian security research programme KIRAS of the Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (bmvit).