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How to decontaminate drones from chemicals, viruses

Drones are being used to decontaminate cities from coronavirus, but you may find yourself needing to decontaminate the drones themselves, too.

If you’re using drones in a potentially dangerous environment such as a chemical spill — or perhaps even in the coronavirus relief effort — you may need to disinfect your drones after the operation.

It’s not just a matter of grabbing some Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and wiping down the propellers. Since drones — particularly those designed for enterprise use — are loaded with delicate sensors and high-end equipment, you’ll need to use specialized decontamination equipment.

“Traditional decontamination methods may damage critical components of the aircraft permanently,” drone maker DJI warned in a memo.

decontaminate drones

Florida-based drone company Flymotion, which helps public safety agencies implement drones into their work, developed a kit specifically to decontaminate drones.

And that’s exactly the kit DJI endorses for decontaminating their drones.

The kit was designed in partnership with disaster preparedness and emergency response equipment maker First Line Technology and the Southern Manatee Fire Rescue. (The Southern Manatee Fire & Rescue HazMat Team has been using drones for a variety of use cases, but perhaps most notably in a situation last year where they sent drones to the scene of an anhydrous ammonia leak inside a food distribution warehouse in Sarasota, Florida).

The Flymotion kit is centered around Dahlgren Decon,  a non-corrosive decontamination solution developed by the U.S. Navy that can immediately decontaminate chemical and biological warfare agents as well as personal protective equipment (PPE), sensitive equipment, and critical infrastructure.

The solution, which has a ten-year shelf life in storage, claims to be efficacious for at least six hours after being mixed with water. One note: the solution is not EPA-registered as a disinfectant. 

The kit, which includes 200mL of the Dahlgren Decon solution, also comes with a tactical sprayer, electrostatc sprayer, a variety of pads, markers and lights.

  • (3) 200mL Dahlgren Decon
  • (1) Tactical Sprayer
  • (1) MG200 Electrostatic Sprayer
  • (1) 4’ x 4’ Shuffle Pit
  • (3) 4’ x 4’ Fibertect Pads
  • (12) 12” x 12” Fibertect Pads
  • (3) 24” x 24” Fibertect Pads
  • (1) Cold Line Marker (Green)
  • (1) Hot Line Marker (Red)
  • (10) Green Chem Lights
  • (10) Red Chem Lights
  • (2) Collapsible Media Buckets

Establish safety zones while cleaning

When flying drones that could potentially be contaminated, establish zones for where the potentially hazardous substances exist, zones where you enter and exit the contaminated zone, and finally, the zone that is free from contamination (everywhere else).

The Environmental Protection Agency spells them out as three different zones, “established primarily to reduce the accidental spread of hazardous substances by workers or equipment from contaminated areas to clean areas.”

  1. The exclusion zone (or hot zone): the area with actual or potential contamination (thus has the highest potential for exposure to hazards)
  2. The contamination reduction zone (or warm zone): the transition area between the exclusion and support zones (where responders enter and exit the exclusion zone).
  3. The support zone (or cold zone): the area free from contamination (may be safely used as a planning and staging area)

Decontamination activities would take place in the warm zone. Naturally, that means drones cannot be launched, landed, or charged in the ‘cold’ zone (they’d take off in the ‘warm’ zone alongside the decontamination process).

DJI suggests that even once decontamination is complete, the aircraft may need up to 48 hours to dry, depending on the environmental conditions.

If you’re looking to get disinfectant for your drone, be patient — unless you’re using drones for a coronavirus drone project use case.

First Line Technology said they are prioritizing orders to agencies participating in the COVID-19 response. 

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