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Drones can provide a rapid response to disasters, reaching spots that are not accessible to other means. Communications and connectivity in such incidents play a major role. In Japan, a unique drone network will save lives in a city devastated by a tsunami. Sendai City in Japan tasked Nokia with developing a plan to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles to respond more effectively in the wake of earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters. The 2011 disaster led to 19,000 deaths, including 1,000 people in the Sendai area.

The Drone Networks solution consists of one or several drones equipped with gimbals with HD and thermal cameras, a private LTE wireless network, a drone flight command and control center, and video analysis applications. Private LTE/4G provides seamless and secure connectivity, making it more suitable for mission-critical use cases than the mostly Wi-Fi-based technology used in public mobile networks. This connectivity provides optimized coverage for the drones, ensuring sufficient capacity for video streaming across wide areas and enabling secure information processing. Drones can also be flown over populated areas with limited risk and with better control in difficult weather conditions.

According to nokia.com, during the simulated disaster, the testers were able to issue a major tsunami warning to evacuees in coastal areas through the drone speaker, and monitor the tsunami arrival zone and coastal areas through drone camera images. 

During the test, the testers guided people to evacuation sites using the drone to convey directions, and monitored the movements of evacuees using the drone camera. The test also highlighted how first responders can facilitate disaster prevention and mitigation without risk to the personnel managing the evacuation activities.

Autonomous drones were deployed in Japan in 2018, according to dronelife.com, when the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) partnered with Tokyo Electric Power in order to assess conditions and damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power following the earthquake. 

Last year, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency in Japan was reportedly tasked to train firefighters to operate drones for disaster response.  The agency planned to train a total of 135 personnel by fiscal 2023 and dispatch them as instructors to fire departments that have yet to introduce drone technology.