Firefighters took three hours to put out the blaze but above and beyond direct human intervention, residents and staff survived thanks to help from a Sharjah Police drone that provided rescuers with a constant stream of data.
Mavic 2, one of the force's high-tech drones, played a crucial role as it was sent through the smoke and flames to find people in danger.
It located three, giving emergency services the information they needed to reach the tenants.
“Being a time-sensitive matter, the device was deployed to locate any tenants who were not able to make it out of the tower,” said Capt Omran Al Matrooshi, head of the drone unit at Sharjah Police.
“It was able to find all three people, who were taken out to safety."
The unmanned aerial vehicle entered service in 2019 and has been used in several operations and events, Capt Al Matrooshi said.
The Mavic 2 is equipped with thermal-imaging cameras, loudspeakers and lights, making it an agile addition to search-and-rescue missions.
“It is purpose-built for public safety and has been used inside and outside buildings,” Capt Al Matrooshi said.
It has also taken part in search-and-rescue operations at sea and at high altitudes that are difficult to reach, he said.
“On occasion, it could be used to rescue a hiker if there were injuries involved.”
Helping keep people safe during pandemic
Drones have played an increasingly important role in day-to-day activities at the Sharjah force in recent years.
When precautionary measures against the coronavirus were introduced in 2020, drones carried the safety message to the public.
Sharjah Police used them to cover 35 zones in the emirate, including industrial areas, as part of a campaign urging people to stick to Covid-19 safety rules.
Members of the public were reminded to wear masks, keep a safe distance from one another and share the vaccination message.
Another drone, the state-of-the-art Matrice M300RTK, entered service in 2020 and has helped in several drug cases.
It has been also used to detect traffic offences and to find people who have gone missing.
When it detects a car, a suspect or a person in distress, it sends co-ordinates to a central operations or mobile operations room.
The device can distinguish humans from animals using data such as body temperature.
The M300RTK's cameras can take clear images from 1,500 metres.
“With all these features, it helps us to obtain better results and use less equipment and less manpower,” Capt Al Matrooshi said.
The force began employing drones in 2017, with the Matrice 600 that took two people to operate — one to fly it and the other to shoot the 9mm-calibre gun it carried when needed.
“The unmanned aerial vehicle was used in raids,” Capt Al Matrooshi said.
Equipped with hooks and capable of lifting 30-kilograms, the Matrice 600 was also used in rescues.
“We would use it to send essentials for people in distress, like those injured or lost who are out of water, food or first-aid kits,” he said.