The Coconino County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue unit implemented unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or sometimes referred to as “drones,” technology in April 2018 with a private donation of a DJI Phantom 4.  In November 2018, with the help of a grant provided by the Arizona Community Foundation, the unit purchased two DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise UAS for use in search and rescue operations.

Since then, the small unmanned aircraft systems have served as an important tool for the CCSSAR team to improve situational awareness and safety with the opportunity to conduct recent searches over hazardous terrain.

When conducting automated flights in conjunction with the use of pixel detection software such as Loc8, CCSSAR is able to locate objects in less time than required to cover the area with ground searchers, and in less time than by manually viewing captured images otherwise made difficult by human eye fatigue and human biases.

In addition to locating lost or missing persons, the UAS has shown to enhance safety in difficult environments.  On at least one search, use of a UAS led to locating a deceased and missing subject mid-way down a 1,400-foot canyon wall.  The sUAS allowed CCSSAR to locate the subject within hours, as opposed to what historically would have taken days. CCSSAR was able to avoid the high risk of placing volunteer technical rope technicians in treacherous terrain.

After the successful location of the subject, a helicopter mission, which took approximately fifteen minutes in duration within the canyon, was possible due to the determination of the precise location of the subject.  This UAS mission enabled the Coconino County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue unit to bring closure to the family more quickly and much more safely.

The acquisition of the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise UAS also enabled CCSSAR to receive a waiver to conduct nighttime operations and two authorizations from the FAA to conduct operations in controlled airspace.

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue unit wishes to thank the Arizona Community Foundation for their support in the introduction of UAS technology in search and rescue operations.