Ari, you raise excellent points. And much IS available right now, and more within a matter of months. Aerial photography is available in a LOT of ways: there are two mostly-local companies (Aero-Metrics in Fort Collins and Horizon, Inc. in Rapid City) that fly aerial photography every day, over much of the nation. There are dozens of private plans that are able to mount cameras to produce video or still photos at sub-meter resolution. There are tens of dozens of planes and people with cameras who can do something similar, if not as sophisticated. And Hundreds of people who have RC aircraft capable of mounting cameras. And who have (or have friends who have) the ability to download and process - and even do comparisons of terrain. And drones (those nasty evil things) that can do this are based in several states, and are finally able to be used in the US - years after they should have been. And there is close to realtime satellite photography available from EROS (a sister to NASA) in South Dakota for the entire nation. But that is usually reserved for more important things, like CDPHE seeing if one of the tens of thousands of permit-holders of environmental permits might not have reported that one of their earthmovers had a leak of a gallon or two of hydraulic fluid or lube oil - or that one of their trucks drove AROUND the gravel pad and tracked mud onto a public road.Problem is, people DON'T THINK and DON'T plan ahead. These things can't work at 9 AM on Saturday morning when you realize someone didn't make it home Friday night: not unless some people - usually a LOT of people, sat down weeks and months before and worked out how to do it. Of course, today, they'd get turned in to DHS or our local fusion center as being terrorists because they are figuring out how to rapidly deploy intelligence-gathering assets to a previously-unknown location so that they can help the mad-suicide-vest bomber get her target. Just as we arrest people for taking pictures of cops on the street and grade-school choruses singing Xmas carols in malls and people taking pictures of the Mint or the DPD local precinct or the security at DIA. And of course, everyone of those groups that get funded by taxpayers (CSP, CBI, Sheriff's Offices, local fire districts, etc. etc. will all object to "civilians" doing this - or even having the capacity to do this. So they will spend six years putting together a plan and submit a bill for another half-billion to the bozos on Capitol Hill in Denver of increased spending - no doubt including a way to start taxing people with RC airplanes more.We can't win. Not with this government - local, county, and state - that we have here today.
There is an alternative to Airplanes for aerial search and rescue. A Powered Paraglider can fly very low and slow, but even at slow speeds, 25-35 mph, it can cover an enormous amount of ground and from an excellent vantage point that can hear potential victims and communicate with them, rather than flying over at several hundred feet above at 80-100mph. http://www.coloradospringsparagliding.com is a dealer with Parajet Paramotors. Parajet just outfitted the Palm Beach Police department with several of these for exactly those reasons. The other benefit is that you can fully train and equip one person for S&R with the best equipment and training for less than the cost of a Jetski.($10k would fix you up real nice) Compared to Helicopters and their incredible cost of maintenance and airplanes, this is a very inexpensive way to put life savers in the air.
At the Robotics show last weekend there was enough talent in the room to design and assemble a semi-autonomous drone with IR and conventional imaging capability, Internet access, and whatever else might seem expeditious. Communications with a closely following vehicle with several observers on board might be more practical than going on line, though.
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