Drones have had their fair share of bad press, with hobbyists getting in trouble for flying them where they shouldn’t, such as near planes, over the White House lawn and above forest fires (hampering the work of aerial firefighters). But these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be used for good, too. In fact, more and more drones are saving lives, aiding in essential research and even helping to put criminals behind bars.

Here are six surprising ways drones are making life safer.

1. Apprehending bad guys

Many law enforcement agencies rely on drones for criminal surveillance. In North Dakota, police used a drone to watch a group of armed people allegedly involved in a standoff with police, according to New York Magazine. Police used a UAV to see when the group disarmed, then rushed in to apprehend them — with no injuries to either side. More recently, Texas authorities announced they’ll be using a pair of drones to help monitor more than 25,000 spring breakers on South Padre Island, the Daily News reports .

While many states allow law enforcement to use drones, some lawmakers and privacy advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are pushing to tighten regulations, including requiring police to obtain a warrant before using drones for surveillance.

Related: No Drone Zones: Crazy Ways Governments Are Plucking Drones Out of the Sky

2. Finding people who are lost or in trouble

Drones have been used in several search and rescue missions, including an incident two years ago in Halifax, Nova Scotia when two adults and their 17-month-old child got lost in the woods. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police UAV located the family in a heavily wooded area, according to Global News.

And UAVs equipped with real-time cameras and infrared thermal imaging can be used in natural disasters because they can get into places that aren't safe for rescuers to investigate, Popular Mechanics reports.

3. Saving skiers by preventing avalanches

Some drones use radar technology to locate weak mountain snow packs that pose an avalanche risk, according to Popular Mechanics. The drones can carry a small payload of explosives, which can be dropped on the potential avalanche area to set off a controlled avalanche, thereby reducing the risk to skiers and ski patrollers.

4. Protecting wildlife

U.S. military and intelligence agencies aren’t the only branches of government employing drones. The U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Geological Survey rely on drones to monitor wildlife, explore wetlands to track endangered species and even map terrain, according to National Geographic.

In Colorado, officials use drones with thermal imaging cameras to count sandhill cranes when the birds settle on the ground for the night, National Geographic reports. One nonprofit group is using drones in northern Sumatra to map the nesting spots of orangutans to petition the government there to protect the land from developers.

5. Monitoring hurricanes and tropical storms

NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology company, are working on a three-year experiment using UAVs to buzz into evolving hurricanes, eliminating the risks to manned planes, which deliberately fly into hurricanes to gather data. The drones can stay airborne for up to 30 hours and fly up to 11,000 miles as they monitor a growing storm, according to National Geographic.

While that experiment carries a price tag of about $30 million, a group at the University of Florida is taking a different and less-costly approach. National Geographic reports the group has "a swarm of six-inch-long drones" that ride a storm, collecting and reporting critical weather data back to the research team.

Related: How to Prepare for a Hurricane: 10 Myths About These Deadly Storms

6. Helping tourists

Drones are helping the tourism industry by keeping tourists safer and warding off nuisance animals. In California, some lifeguards use UAVs to spot great white sharks, which pose a threat to surfers, boaters and swimmers, CNN reports.

Farther north in Ottawa, the city is using drones to shoo away pesky geese from Petrie Island beaches. The geese are a nuisance to beachgoers and pose a public health risk due to bacteria in their droppings. Officials estimate UAVs have reduced the population of geese during prime tourist hours from 140 to 20, according to PC Magazine.

Related: A Shark-Spotting Drone Could See Jaws Before It Sees You

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Ronald Agrella is a freelance writer and former editor of The Boston Globe’s Boston.com.