Drones as a survival and evacuation tool

Hi Everyone. I’m new to prepping but have been researching and working hard to be prepared over the past few weeks. What has me most concerned and focused in regards to prepping is needing to evacuate my home in event my neighborhood becomes an area of extreme civil unrest.  I don’t want to run over anyone, I don’t want to shoot anyone, I just want to get my family and I out.

I’ve been considering getting an inexpensive drone so that I can quickly survey the area around my home to determine the easiest path out during a period of civil unrest.  I don’t have any experience in flying drones and am not interested in taking it up as a hobby.  I just want something that I can quickly and easily launch and get a picture.  Any suggestions?

On a related note, entering “drone” in the search block of this site yielded no results.  While my plan is to evacuate by car and go stay with relatives in the country, it seems a drone would be a phenomenal survival tool for someone on foot in terms of navigating, finding resources (water, food, shelter), finding help (other people), or in my case avoiding danger (other people).  I think a write up on suitable drones for prepper use would be an excellent resource reference.


  • Comments (20)

    • 11

      This is an interesting/creative idea and I’d like to hear more from others, I can give you some limited context of some of the factors involved:

      • Drones and airspace/flying restrictions have become more and more restricted/regulated over the years.  If you live near restricted airspace (airports, military bases, or high value target cities like Washington DC) you aren’t legally allowed to fly a drone without getting further away.
        • http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/air-space-map/ as an example of some of the airspace restrictions
        • Newer drones I believe have hardware geofencing enabled so even in a SHTF situation they probably won’t operate illegally (i.e. no fly zones may be enforced through hardware/software that you can’t override – they should still work in allowable areas)
        • I don’t stay up to date, but depending on the size/flight profile (altitude range?) you might have to register your drone?
        • Common rules involve line of sight (you must be able to see your drone to legally operate it) which in the country/suburbs gives you good range but limits you with tall buildings, trees, etc
        • There are stories of people shooting down drones that go over their property, so thats something to keep in mind.
        • might not work well at night, and is not perfectly silent.
      • DJI is a popular entry level drone company (its also Chinese company, if that matters, more for digital security) but from what I gather these are semi-autonomous, easy to fly, they forward video to your cell phone and have some take-off/land assist functions?
      • You could imagine some interesting use cases/accessories:
        • launch/land from your car (sun roof!?! – thats mostly a joke, safety first people!), recharge from your car, get multiple cheap ones to maintain a surveillance perimeter while on the move, get backup batteries to quickly swap out and increase flight time.

      And in all seriousness, people have been hurt by drones – the smaller/newer ones are probably safer but you don’t need much imagination to guess what happens when a rigid fast moving propeller hits you in the face because of a gust of wind or careless handling.

    • 7

      Thanks for the prompt / suggestion for an article on The Prepared. We haven’t covered it yet because it’s pretty far down the priority list, which is due to only being valuable in a narrow set of circumstances.

      That said, you brought up a valid scenario where a drone can work well:

      • You want to see if the area immediately around you is in danger.
      • You don’t need a super high level of resolution/detail in what the drone sees, since you’re essentially just looking for “are there a bunch of people nearby? Fires? Blocked roads?” and you can see all of that from a cheap drone.
      • You won’t be drawing dangerous attention to yourself by using the drone, since there are likely helicopters, other drones, etc. around.
      • You don’t need to then carry the drone with you. You can leave it at home or maybe put it in the car as you evac. But if you need to end up on foot, you’ll be fine without it.

      For something affordable but good enough, check out the DJI drones.

    • 6

      You might find this story interesting, from a few months ago.  Several guys trapped in their house by an armed group used a drone to monitor the situation while communicating with responders.


      • 5

        Wow. Yeah that just about validates how useful a drone could be in the right circumstances.

        Also makes you think about how responders could send drones out quickly so that they get to the site before the responders to, giving them intel.

        I hope for a day emergency drones are in ready-to-deploy base stations around populated areas.

    • 11

      I live in the country and have totally had this thought, as well. It’s been something I’ve been planning to look into for a while. I’m on 17 acres, and I’d like to be able to easily surveil it (especially at night, like with a FLIR) for safety reasons without having to actually go out and patrol. I don’t have an answer, so mostly just commenting to say that this is a great topic and I’ll be following it!

    • 1

      Been considering the concept,  having a hard time drooping the coin, not sure if it would be worth it for me, at >$500.  A drone with thermal imaging would be shiny. Again way above my pay grade.

    • 1

      If there’s extreme civil unrest, no private citizen drones will be flying.

      Anticipate the area being closed down with only supervised evac routes.

      Remember, if a prepper can launch a drone – or even use semaphore flags – so, too, can rioters, domestic terrorists, other criminal categories.

      Anticipate the place closing down.  

    • 2

      What an excellent idea…….I consider civil unrest my biggest problem…… and I think a drone would elleviate part of it.

      • 2

        A drone in my opinion would be an asset for aerial recconnaissance , in helping get a birds eye view of what is happening in your area, such as if wild fires are moving TOWARDS your location, or riioters /looters are moving your way.   and of course you could utilise a drone to plot the safest way out of town in a disaster.  I dont think local laws will be relevent in many scenarios. For those of a desire to help those less fortunate than yourselves in a disaster a drone may help you find those you wish to assist.   BUT its going to need to be powerful and able enough to fly high enough to not get shot down, and be very quiet. And I’m advised it should be of the type that automatically flies back to its launch point if the signal from the controller is lost.

      • 2

        Good morning Old Prepper and Bill,

        Once civil unrest present, there will be only Federal regulatory controls that are enforced. Just about all state LEOs are deputized / trained for Federal work. 

        Drones – and boats – will be prohibited with substantial penalties for violations.

        Bill, they probably won’t be shot down; usually ECM – electronic counter measures – will be used.

        The civil unrest participants will get firsthand knowledge about Havana Syndrome.

      • 1

        Bob.. good morning

        I really find it hard to have as much confidence in security forces ability as you I am afraid.

        Firstly Katrina a civil emergency showed that they have no system…. (and that resulted in the top guys resigning).

        Then we have target value ….as apposed to available resources….. (if they were organized)….. A low level drone around a property is less of a threat than say a drone moving in unison with a group!

        A drone could be a very effective reconnaissance weapon for all the forces if actually reported to local enforcement as available to assist. Like bloodhounds really!

        Imagine a few eyes in the air effectively assisting by cutting down their workload to what would be a labor intensive event.

      • 1

        Good morning Oldprepper,

        Described is the OLD system.  The NEW system – DHS replacing FBI – is no bunch of civil libertarians. The military – especially the NGO military orgs on contract – involved now.

        If a civil disturbance, even a drone in the backyard – nearly forgot to mention a laser pen – has drastic consequences for the former property owner.

        The private sector does not have the organization and resources to help out. They are called “ESG 17 (still 17 in Virginia, Feds believed changed number) spontaneous volunteers. Two years ago in New Bern, North Carolina, the Cajun Navy sent some people to help evacs by small water craft.  The USCG … to be blunt … got rid of them.  No one knew who they were nor other important info.  Plus, of course, if a private citizen can report info, so too can a terrorist. After Anthrax and Beltway Snipers it’s all changed with max resources thrown at continuity of government.

        I took the 2 month course and eligible to be deputized which I will never do especially with the “Defund the Police” trash near here.

        It’s all changed and we must not prepare like the Generals, for the last war.

        In our nation, the party’s over.

        A footnote; If a civil disturbance, searching for a lost relative outside of yard, just might not happen.  It’s now a Federal SAR matter.

        I worked in 2 Army support of riot control missions in Missouri … east St Louis might not be Missouri – Just about everything has been perfected and stuff like drones and laser heaters on crowds tested by USMC near here.

      • 2

        Gotcha…but I shall none the less keep my drone!

      • 1

        Luckily for me there are very few constraints on the use of drones in the UK, those that are in place mainly protect places like airports.

      • 1

        That cos we do not make as many enemies….so dont need to I guess.

      • 2


        There are so many drones that have so many functions today they really should be part of any Bug out kit! A GREAT asset.

    • 2

      I recently bought a DJI Mavic Air 2 and can definitely imagine emergency scenarios where I will benefit from it. For example, there was recently a wildfire nearby and we were worried about the direction it was headed. In addition to listening to the radio, I could shoot the drone straight up and get a feel for fire distance, direction, and speed. 

      Maybe we’re in the first few days of a major SHTF scenario when everyone is panicked, streets are jammed, etc. Being able to scout ahead / around us could be immensely valuable.

      I’ve been around the drone market since it’s early days, but didn’t buy one myself until a few years ago when the tech/prices felt like it had reached the point of being worthwhile.

      I picked the Mavic Air 2 because I wanted solid video quality (it’s 4k 60fps HDR), but didn’t need the more advanced stuff — I knew my use-case was simply “fly a drone and see/record what it sees.” I also liked the distance (I get about a kilometer) and battery life (30 mins per battery.) Plus it’s pretty compact and light, could tuck into a bag or other mobile rig. 

      IMO the main question is how much money to spend on image quality. You could probably only spend a few hundred bucks and be fine with 1080 HD / 30 fps. But I found the extra resolution worth it, so you can zoom in on more details without having to get the drone closer. Because even the quiet ones like this do make noise, so keeping some distance from a target helps with being less obvious. 

    • 3

      I’ve had a Mavic Air for a few years and have thought about this use also, though I’ve never tested it specifically for that. I’ll say why my experiences have left me skeptical, though.

      I had visions of doing some nature videography and possibly using the drone for scouting ahead from a sailboat, but the reality is that it has a pretty short flight time (which has dramatically lessened as the batteries have aged), and controlling it via a phone doesn’t give you the best detail (versus, say, transferring the video to a laptop and viewing it after the fact on a large screen; perhaps it’s possible to use a tablet in real time as well but the controller is not physically designed for that).

      Also, it’s easy to crash it in windy conditions (I’ve not even bothered with the sailboat, though I have seen some folks doing it on YouTube with some success but also more than one drone lost to the deep), and I’ve had it come crashing down when it runs out of battery even though it’s supposed to return to base before that. Finally, I’ve had the Geofencing stop me more than once, including on our own property at a ski area that’s technically on Forest Service land.

      So, for real-time reconnaissance I’d say not just that this isn’t the best drone—perhaps there are better choices—but taking into account possibly being shot at during unrest, the possibility of jamming, the geofencing issues, and real-time details being hard to see on a tiny phone screen, perhaps it’s not the most realistic mission. At best, maybe I’d consider it as a Hail Mary pass to assess conditions nearby (and even then, if there were fires or mobs nearby, hopefully I would have bugged out long before).

      I have successfully used it for inspecting our roof and high-up siding after winter snow and ice, though! (Again, reviewing footage later on the laptop to spot missing shingles, etc., versus trying to spot details while flying with a phone.) It’s a fun toy…maybe someone with a fancier drone will post a different opinion.

      PS—they’re also the opposite of stealth; noisy, intrusive, and ultimately could lead someone back to you if they observe it returning, unless you sacrifice it landing elsewhere as a diversion.

      • 2

        Specifically for wildfire reconnaissance, ability to fly in windy conditions seems especially important, because the most dangerous fire conditions are high wind speed. Remember the Paradise fire. High winds were a big part of why the fire spread so fast. High winds also prevented fire department from launching their helicopters for reconnaissance and dropping suppressant. Those high winds will also cause problems for drones.

        Government satellites already have great real-time surveillance data for fires. Too bad we don’t have access to the data feed.

    • 3
      • 2

        Haha I came here to share the same story 🙂 Good thinking on the rescuer’s part!