Summary of findings

All in all, we were able to identify 26 National Societies around the world who had used drone technology or data in some capacity, or are intentionally working towards using drone technology. We also confirmed that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is developing policy strategies around drone use.

Of the identified National Societies, we conducted approximately hour-long telephone interviews with representatives from 12, using a set of predetermined questions. Four National Societies responded to the same set of predetermined questions via email. We draw upon this combination of desk research and interviews to present these initial conclusions.

  • Of the 26 National Societies identified, six were in Africa, five in Europe, seven in Asia Pacific, eight in the Americas (following IFRC region designations).

  • The majority of identified National Society drone users work primarily with hardware produced by Chinese drone-maker DJI, the world’s largest consumer drone company. The foldable DJI Mavic Pro and the DJI Phantom 3 Professional were the two most popular DJI models used.

  • Some identified National Societies do not yet have their own internal drone capacity, but have collaborated with other organizations on mapping projects that incorporate drone data. One such example is the 2015 Tanzania flood mapping collaboration between the World Bank, Tanzanian mapping organization Ramia Huria, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), and the Tanzanian Red Cross.

  • A minority of National Societies reviewed for this research have not yet used drone data in their operations and do not operate drones themselves, but have expressed a clear interest in doing so in the future, and are actively exploring means of working with the technology. The Australian Red Cross and the Senegalese Red Cross Society are two examples within this category.

  • The majority of RCRC National Societies reviewed for this research have developed their own, internal drone capacity: they are able to independently operate drones and collect data as needed. A smaller number currently use drones or drone data with support from other private or public sector groups (such as individual, private drone companies, or WeRobotics).

  • Active drone operations carried out by National Societies remain relatively small. Most organizations reviewed for this research only have one or two pilots, and only own one or two aircraft. Often, a National Society’s involvement with drones is driven largely by one or two individual members who have an existing interest in the technology, and then endeavor to find ways to use it within the organization. These projects run the risk of being abandoned or failing if these individuals leave the organization.

  • The most widely-reported use (or intended use) of drone technology amongst National Societies was post-disaster data collection and mapping. Search and rescue operations, disaster resilience building, overall situational awareness, and information gathering for communications and public relations were also widely-cited use cases.

  • RCRC drone users largely use their drones to collect spatial data (geographically-identified aerial photographs); information which is then turned into maps. National Societies that use drones for mapping often collect data both before disasters (for community mapping and resiliency projects) and in the immediate aftermath of disaster (to document and describe the destructive impact of an event). A smaller number of RCRC drone users also use the technology to: capture photographs and video for PR and public awareness purposes, capture photographs and video for overall situational awareness during crisis, and to assist in search and rescue operations.

  • No identified RCRC drone users currently appear to use drones for delivery projects, although some National Societies are interested in doing so in the near future.