New Report: Drones in Public Safety and First Responder Operations

It may not seem like it, but drones are still in their infancy and only proving themselves through the rigorous testing done privately, commercially, and by state and federal government agencies. Despite the tangible benefits that drones can provide, the public has mixed sentiments about their use by law enforcement, firefighting, and search & rescue operations.

As early as 2012, this AP-NCC poll found a third of the public fears that police using drones for surveillance will erode their privacy. But negative sentiment is changing. In 2013, an Institute for Homeland Security Solutions (IHSS) and RTI International survey found 57 percent of the general public supports the use of unmanned aircraft systems for any application. It found:

  • 88 percent of the general public supports drone use in search and rescue operations
  • 67 percent support drone use in homeland security missions
  • 63 percent support drone use in fighting crime

Nevertheless, despite fears by segments of the public and civil rights proponents like EPIC that broad use of drones heralds a domestic “surveillance state,” many more believe unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) provide tremendous benefits and dividends for public safety. This includes everything from traffic accident investigation, to forensics, to fire investigation and damage assessment.

 

With that in mind we just released our third research report series of studies that looks objectively at each major commercial market for drones and drone technology. This study titled “The Truth about Drones in Public Safety and First Responder Operations,” shows how drones have been used successfully by law enforcement, firefighters, and search & rescue thus far, reviews competitive and traditional approaches using incumbent technology, discusses the opportunities and challenges posed by regulations, outlines the lessons learned, and discusses what’s next for drones in this industry. Here is an excerpt:

GenePermission

All these use cases are vital public safety matters that civilian market drones are well suited to handle. Cities, towns, and municipalities facing strained budgets and dwindling resources may more easily be able to afford small drones than traditional big ticket first response equipment and personnel. Consequently, drones will give some local governments a bigger bang for their buck.

But would-be adopters need to know that in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) controls the skies and has created regulations (safety standards) governing the operation of aircraft. Thankfully, not all, but still some, of the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FARs”) apply to public aircraft. The FAA allows first responders with an FAA certificate of waiver the ability to create their own safety standards for the pilots, the aircraft, and maintenance. Additionally, first responders can choose to also operate under the newly created and liberal Part 107 small UAS regulations if that benefits their operations more.

In the U.S., it’s reported there are almost 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies with at least one full-time officer or the equivalent in part-time officers. That includes over 12,500 local police departments and over 3,000 sheriffs’ offices, and 50 primary state law enforcement agencies. The National Fire Protection Association reports that in 2014, there was an estimated total of 29,980 fire departments, of which 19,915 (about two-third) were staffed only with volunteers. Smaller law enforcement agencies and volunteer fire departments that have limited finances stand to benefit greatly because the price entry point has decreased for consumer drones (like the one pictured in Figure 3), their capabilities have increased, and the new liberal Part 107 regulations make it easier to legally operate.

The report details major use cases and discusses the challenges and lessons learned by police and search & rescue teams including the lessons offered by Gene Robinson, head of Unmanned Aircraft Operations for the Wimberley Fire Department, from his work in the aftermath of the 2015 Texas Memorial Day floods.

You can get the free report here.

If you have questions about what’s in the report or would like to comment on it after reading it, write me [email protected].

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Colin Snow
Colin Snow is CEO and Founder of Skylogic Research, LLC (also known as Drone Analyst®), a research, content, and advisory services firm for the commercial unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry. Colin is a 25 year technology industry veteran with a background in market research, enterprise software, electronics, digital imaging, and mobility. His experience includes aerial photography as well as making, programming, and piloting remote control aircraft. Colin holds an MBA from Florida Atlantic University and is a member of all major UAS industry groups including: AUVSI, RCAPA, and AMA.