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Drones Are Helping Texas First Responders Plan for the Worst

A new undertaking by the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District is relying on drones to create 3-D models of certain areas, like schools, to enable a better response should a threat arise.

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Shutterstock/Tyler Olson
(TNS) — School officials say keeping students safe is their No. 1 priority. One local emergency telecommunications agency is hoping to help them.

The North Central Texas Emergency Communications District is using unmanned aerial systems — also known as drones — to create 3D models of certain areas to help first responders find exactly where 911 callers or threats are located, even down to the floor the person is on. Their first stop was at Rio Vista ISD.

NCT911 is engaged in the planning, implementation and maintenance of an emergency 911 system for more than 40 public safety answering points in 13 counties surrounding the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, according to its website.

Rodger Mann, NCT911 geographic information systems manager, said they started their drone program over a year ago with the goal to provide more accurate data to police departments, sheriff offices and other first responders.

“By providing better data, our stakeholders can find callers in emergency situations quicker,” Mann said. “Schools are considered ‘critical-infrastructure,’ and we see the need for creating a situational awareness common operating picture for first responders. In critical situations, 3D models can greatly assist first responders in planning and strategy — identifying roof access and exit points in active shooter incidents.”

NCT911 is an early adopter of technology, and we saw the value in using drone technology, he said.

“We started off by training and certifying two drone pilots with the [Federal Aviation Administration] 107 license before we made any attempts at starting a project,” he said. “Furthermore, in the near future we will utilize Z-plane axis or height-above-ground level that is going to be supplied for wireless emergency callers. Currently, we receive only X&Y coordinates. Therefore, mapping in the third dimension is essential supplemental information.”

RVISD was their pilot location, he said. They’d like to work with all the school districts in their region.

“We reached out to a few ISDs and Rio Vista were the first to give us the green light,” he said. “NCT911 is proactive, and we want to save lives. Supplying current data and advanced technology such as 3D modelling is going to give our first responders better information in responding to mission-critical situations.”

RVISD Superintendent Tony Martin said he thought the project would be a great opportunity for the district.

“It provides 911 staff members a three dimensional picture of our campus facilities that would aid first responders in the event of a crisis situation,” Martin said. “For example, a 911 call from the high school would provide high degree specific details regarding the location of the facility, any obstacles or alternative avenues of approach. This subject could be discussed for hours.”

©2020 the Cleburne Times-Review (Cleburne, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.