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Droneresponders Aims to Help Public Safety Navigate the Skies

The Droneresponders Public Safety Alliance was formed to create a clearinghouse where public safety and emergency management officials can go to glean all of what’s known about public safety unmanned aircraft systems programs.

More and more public safety agencies are getting on the drone bandwagon and implementing an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) program.

But the aircraft don’t necessarily come with the policies and procedures, governance program or knowledge that an agency needs once it adopts a UAS program for public safety missions. Or that once an agency has a drone and flies it successfully, it may become the most popular kid on the block and other agencies will want to share. 

That’s why the Droneresponders Public Safety Alliance was formed in 2017. The nonprofit aims to create partnerships with other organizations in government, industry, and academia and advocate for the use of drones for public safety use.

When public safety agencies take up a drone program, they may not know all that is to follow, least of all that other entities will want them to fly missions. Creating such a program requires the aforementioned governance, policies and procedures, defined missions, selection of UAS payloads, data management, training, maintenance and documentation of flights and training.

“People continue to come to me and say, ‘I can train your public safety people [on developing a UAS program] said Charles Werner, director of the Droneresponders Public Safety Alliance. “Well, I don’t know what that means. There is no standard curriculum, there is no certification.”

Werner said Droneresponders will serve as a clearinghouse where public safety agencies can go for the knowledge they need to put together a UAS public safety program. “It’s such a new frontier,” he said. “We have a document we put together if you’re considering a program.”

He said agencies looking at starting a program often don’t look deep into what might transpire and find that they end up doing more missions than they thought and that the definition of those missions expands as well.

“Let’s say a department says we’re going to use this to do search-and-rescue, and that’s their focus,” Werner said. “And then if they fly missions that are successful, people will say, ‘Wait a minute, we have a storm — can you do some assessments for us?’”

That sometimes expands beyond public safety when municipalities want public safety agencies to fly for them for reasons other than public safety. That’s when it’s imperative that the agency is aware of regulations and when public safety agencies can and can’t fly.

“What Droneresponders is doing is helping the public safety community understand how to navigate through the different operational rules,” Werner said. “You really have to understand the rules to be the most versatile in what you’re trying to accomplish.”

When an agency takes on more missions and missions that it hadn’t intended to fly it may take on having to purchase another aircraft, get more training, more pilots and that takes people away from their regular jobs, since so many who fly drones are full-time law enforcement or fire personnel.

“One of the things I recommended early on is to develop a multidiscipline team — police, fire or police and sheriff or emergency management — so you’re able to share the burden, share the costs and get more aircraft and pilots from multiple agencies,” Werner said.

The goal, Werner said, is to develop a “full ecosystem” that defines the ways to enable drones for “good,” and to be aware of the issue of countering drones for bad things. “That we have the right training programs, the right certifications, and the knowledge to start programs and do them in a professional and safe way.”

There also needs to be remote identification, where drones can be identified and matched up to a permit or registration through the FAA.

“We want to put the thought leaders together and say, ‘Where are we in the world of public safety UAS and where do we want to go, and what’s our plan to get there?’” Werner said. “Nobody’s doing that.”