It's been just under a year since heavy rainfall triggered flooding and destructive tidal waves in western North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. Many thousands of helpers were deployed - among them in the west of North Rhine-Westphalia. The region around Erftstadt, where the water had washed away houses, roads and land, was particularly hard hit. Among the many emergency personnel were Professor Hartmut Surmann from the Gelsenkirchen Computer Science Department of the Westphalian University and Master's student Dominik Slomma. They were on their way as a task force under the leadership of the Dortmund Fire Department and on behalf of the German Rescue Robotics Center (DRZ). Their task: using drones, they were to undertake reconnaissance flights, produce overview maps and inspect basements, cars and other objects.

"Before concrete relief measures can be initiated, it is necessary to reconnoiter what the situation is like, how dangerous the work is for the helpers and where relief measures are best applied," says Hartmut Surmann, explaining such a mission. "With drones from the air, this is not dangerous for people and at the same time speeds up the aid." The area where the two men sent their drones into the air was not initially allowed to be entered by anyone because of the danger of collapse. Eight people were still missing at the time. Boats were also unable to reach the silted areas. "While we use large drones for the overview in each case, we tend to use small drones for detailed reconnaissance. We let them look through basement and car windows and even through cracks in walls to see what the situation is like inside," Surmann says of the procedure.

The DRZ's robotic command vehicle (RobLW) was also present in the area of operation. Both robots and drones can be operated from inside it. In the process, the data obtained is monitored and evaluated and distributed as needed. At Interschutz, the vehicle and equipment will be on display in Hall 17 at the Dortmund Fire Department's Stand D06.

Drones were also used in other parts of the huge disaster area. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) was also on hand to provide support. As was the case during the heavy rain disaster, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly being used in places that are inaccessible to humans or only accessible at great risk - or to provide an overview of the situation from there. The Duisburg Fire Department, for example, has joined forces with DLR to develop the "Live Situation - Use of Drones for Rapid Reconnaissance of Emergency Situations" project. This project uses camera systems that can generate georeferenced aerial images in high resolution and live maps in real time. DLR will present corresponding examples in Hall 16, Booth E/F/G16.

The start-up NatureTec from Ludwigsfelde in Brandenburg is working on a very special application. This involves the development of unmanned load drones for forest firefighting. Flight-enthusiastic scientists and engineers are working closely with a team of professors as part of a research project at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences (Halle16/F48).

Preventing and monitoring forest fires is the focus of a drone on display by Dutch company Avy in Hall 16, Stand F45. The fixed-wing drone features a long range, according to the company. It can be equipped with a thermal and visual camera payload that provides firefighters with real-time information. It can carry up to three kilos over a distance of 100 kilometers.

But drones have proven to be valuable tools for responders, and not just during disasters and huge wildfires. Many fire departments already frequently use the aircraft, which are then appropriately equipped with a thermal imaging camera, in the search for missing persons or to locate fire nests after the end of firefighting operations. PASS-Medientechnik has another use for the drones: the company offers a loudspeaker system (CDL 136) that can be used for all drone models with a payload of three kilos. The flying system is particularly advantageous in operational situations that cannot be reached by ground-based vehicles to inform the population (Hall 27/H16/1).