Research tests speed of drones in responding to medical emergency scenarios

October 25, 2019

NEW ORLEANS - Could drones be used someday to deliver life-saving medications or interventions in the case of a child's emergency, a drug overdose or in response to a mass casualty scene? According to new research presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2019 National Conference & Exhibition, it's an idea worth exploring.

Researchers found that drones - or unmanned aerial vehicles - arrived faster than ambulances when transportation times were compared during peak rush hour in Brooklyn, N.Y., according to a research abstract, "Utility of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Inner City Emergent Response During Peak Rush Hour Traffic." The abstract will be presented on Oct. 25 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

If drones were equipped with two-way communication and possible life-saving interventions, they could save lives by responding to emergency conditions such as acute anaphylaxis, opiate overdose, asthma, cardiac arrest, and sarin poisoning, according to the abstract's author, Mark Hanna, MD.

"Drones, when used appropriately, represent the ideal marriage between enhanced prehospital care and telemedicine for our future," Dr. Hanna said. "This may prove to be profound in the unique pediatric setting."

The analysis compared data for Emergency Medical Services and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flight data within a zip code in urban Brooklyn, finding the drone response faster than the standard EMS ambulance response, especially during peak rush hours. The UAV flight data were collected during actual flights recorded while flying under U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and New York City laws in a commercially available drone, Dr. Hanna said.

The author suggests that advances by the FAA have resulted in greater utility to both civilian and medical personnel. Yet, medical intervention by unmanned aircrafts in times of critical need is limited and largely not studied within the United States.

Dr. Mark Hanna will present the abstract, available below, between 9 a.m. - noon Oct. 25 at Morial Convention Center, Room 393-396.

In addition, Dr. Hanna will be among highlighted abstract authors to give brief presentations and be available for interviews during a press conference on Sunday, Oct. 27, starting at noon in rooms 208-209 (Press Office) of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. During the meeting, you may reach AAP media relations staff in the National Conference Press Room at 504-670-5406.

Please note: only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have more data available to share with media, or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit Reporters can access the meeting program and other relevant meeting information through the AAP meeting website at

Please note: Some of the figures in the following abstract have been updated from the abstract that was originally submitted. The author notes that the research is ongoing, and that the poster presentation may contain additional updates. Please confirm data with Dr. Hanna before publication of your piece.

Abstract Title: Utility of unmanned aircraft systems in inner city emergent response during peak rush hour traffic.

Mark Hanna, MD

Background: Current advances in the US Federal Aviation Administration have resulted in greater utility to both civilian and medical personnel. At present, medical intervention by unmanned aircrafts in times of critical need is limited and largely not studied within the United States. This study aims to determine the demand for, feasibility of, and risks associated with the use of UAVs to intervene, assist, and observe acute medical situations both outside and within hospitals, mass casualty scenes, and simulated medical situations in times of critical demand.

Objectives: To determine the impact and beneficence of unmanned aircraft in medical situations in times of critical need. Using a population based model we evaluated whether children were more likely to benefit from intervention with unmanned aircraft. A secondary outcome of this study will be to determine improvements in first responder time with drones vs ambulances.

Methods: Primary comparison between response times of EMS vs UAS in the zip code affecting the encatchment area of our hospital was compared using publically available data on the NYC public response network. After establishing average response times one EMS first responder data we compared them to travel times established using UAS. Comparative analytics including average time to first response and speed of travel were compared.

Results: Average time to first response of EMS for life threatening emergent calls was 9.54 mins with a travel velocity of 5.04 mph with a standard deviation of 0.5 and 0.27 respectively (Non emergent 13.9 minutes and standard deviation of 1.67, velocity of 3.49mph, standard deviation of 1.77). The UAS time to first response average was 6.48 mins with an average travel velocity of 6.54mph with standard deviations of 5.24 mins and 4.47mph respectively. UAS response was found to be 32% faster at arriving compared to emergent medical concerns with a 30% increased velocity and 53% faster at non emergent with an 87% increased velocity.

Conclusions: UAS response in acute medical interventions in an inner city environment will reach responders faster and more quickly than compared to standard EMS ambulance calls. Possible life saving interventions with first response associated with UAS can include acute anaphylaxis, opiate overdose, asthma, cardiac arrest, and sarin poisoning as these conditions have been associated with decreased mortality based on time to intervention by first responders. Future investigation into how UAS systems are necessary in the future scope of emergent health management in the pediatric population.

Velocity by operator

Response time by urgency and operator type

Fig 1.1 EMS vs UAS in response time by time of day.

Figure 1.2 Concept Build of proposed drone with main features.

American Academy of Pediatrics

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