The Kauai Search and Rescue (SAR) Drone Program received an $11,000 grant from State Farm to use thermal imaging technology for night operations, providing the organization with the most advanced tools available to save lives—regardless of the time of day or weather conditions.

The grant was presented to Kauai SAR by Līhu‘e State Farm agents Eric Kaneda and Mike Martinez and is to fund the acquisition and deployment of drones, training for SAR teams, and the development of an integrated system to facilitate SAR operations in Kauai County.

Drones have become indispensable tools in SAR operations due to their ability to cover vast areas quickly, navigate challenging terrains, and provide real-time visual information and data. This project aims to harness the potential of drones to enhance the effectiveness of SAR operations in Kauai County, not only during search missions but also in the aftermath of natural disasters such as wildfires, tsunamis, and hurricanes.

Kauai County is renowned for its stunning landscapes characterized by steep cliff-type mountains, dense forests, and open ocean currents. It attracts between 100,000 and 140,000 visitors monthly who engage in various outdoor activities, including hiking along treacherous trails like Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast. In such an environment, accidents and emergencies frequently occur, leading to the loss or injury of individuals who venture into these natural wonders. Kauai also has a limited number of paid first responders to respond to a disaster.

To address these challenges, the drones are equipped with advanced thermal imaging technology. These thermal cameras enable SAR teams to detect the heat signatures of individuals, making it possible to locate missing persons, even in the darkness or dense forests. This capability significantly enhances the chances of successful nighttime rescue operations.

Kauai SAR President Noelle Hamilton-Cambeilh says, “Search efforts are restricted due to safety concerns imposed by our challenging terrain. Individuals must endure overnight exposure to the elements until search operations can safely resume in daylight. Thanks to technological advancements and this grant from State Farm, KSAR is adding a valuable resource should agencies seek to conduct nighttime search and rescue missions, drastically improving the safety and efficiency of operations.”

Moreover, thermal imaging can be invaluable in disaster response situations, as it allows teams to identify survivors and assess damage in areas affected by natural disasters. The combination of night vision capabilities and thermal imaging positions Kauai County to be better prepared for the diverse challenges it faces, from missing hikers in remote locations to post-disaster response in challenging terrains.

Hamilton-Cambeilh added, “As the climate is changing and increasing the frequency and intensity of these disasters, the need for adaptive and innovative tools has never been greater.”