Drones Have Arrived: How Can They Help First Responders?
Imagine an agent who can go anywhere, even into a raging fire, bomb threat, or chemical spill. Imagine an agent who can track activity across a city block or over crowds of thousands, hundreds of feet in the air. Imagine an agent who records live footage of a crime in progress, fire scene, or complex terrain, for analysis during or after an event. Drones are quickly becoming that indispensable super-agent for all kinds of emergency services.
Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are so prolific now that the commercial drone market is predicted to grow from $2 billion now to $127 billion by 2020. The FAA projects commercial drones will grow from 32,800 in 2016 to 542,500 in 2020. The explosion of the drone market is the result of dramatic price drops. The cost of drones has dropped tenfold, putting sophisticated models in reach. Models of heavier-load drones used to be $100,000; now they can be found for $10,000. Light-weight camera drones were $10,000 a few years ago; now they are widely available at $1000, within reach of thousands of users. As costs plummet and usage spreads, deployment of drones will continue to grow.
How are first responders benefiting from the drone boom?
- Firefighters use them for monitoring and scene analysis. Drones can be safer to deploy in hazmat scenarios, wildfires, tall structure fires, and search and rescue operations. Urban departments like New York are already using drones on scene. Many other departments will follow suit this year.
- Police use them to track suspects, monitor large crowds, respond to volatile situations like chemical spills, and more. Governing is tracking where drones are in use by police departments.
- Military personnel are using sophisticated versions for terrain analysis and reconnaissance, as well as use in weaponry. Most recently, they demonstrated tiny swarming drones capable of decision making, formation flying and self healing.
But the proliferation of drones demands that first responders learn more about the problems they cause, as well as their uses.
- Evolving laws and criminal uses: FAA regulations regarding labeling, registration, height restrictions and allowable air spaces are changing constantly. Several instances lately have resulted in criminal charges. A drone photographer crashed his device into the Space Needle during fireworks preparations. Another drone pilot lost control of his drone and it crashed into a crowd, seriously injuring a woman. Drones are even being used to smuggle contraband into prisons.
- Safety Issues: For first responders, drones pose particular safety issues. Firefighters battling huge blazes now need to worry about amateur drone photographers interfering with operations.
- Evolving counter devices: Swiss police are testing solutions to drone interference: They have demonstrated a huge cannon-like disabling apparatus that jams drone controls, disabling the device.
Wherever drone technology goes next, it’s clear that first responders have a learning curve that will match the market’s exponential growth. As laws and capabilities evolve, agents will have to keep up with both the uses and challenges of drones. Whether responding to incident caused by a drone, dealing with drones interfering on scene, or using drones to better manage a situation, teams need to be up to speed on drone technology. Is your workforce ready?
Drone Market Insights:
Applications for First Responders:
Challenges of Drones: