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Public Safety UAS Operations: How to succeed

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

The availability of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) has been a game changer in the way public safety and first responders complete their missions. UAS have added a capability that was once financially out of reach for most public safety agencies. The ability to deploy a low cost aerial asset has had an immediate impact on the success of an outcome during searches for a missing person when time was of the essence.

Helicopters and airplanes require a significant maintenance cost associated with every hour of flight. Some of these costs include pilot training (initial and recurrent), insurance, hangar leases, aircraft registrations, and other variables. These costs are prohibitive in that most agencies do not have a budget that can sustain manned aerial assets. Although UAS are not in a position to replace manned aviation, they can play an important role as a force multiplier and gap filler with the right planning and vision of a program.

It’s easy to point out how UAS would be a benefit and there are more scenarios than what just one person can think of. When the boss would ask how UAS could be used, it was easier to point out what they couldn’t do. Prior to engaging in the use of UAS, it is vitally important for public safety and first responders to understand the responsibility that comes with operating a UAS. In the eyes of the FAA, the pilot of a UAS is considered a Remote Pilot and must be operating a registered aircraft.

In the zeal to achieve the goal of saving a life or getting the job done, some members of public safety and first responders have taken the approach of “ask for forgiveness later.” While noble in its intention, the FAA offers forgiveness in the way of fines and heavy handed enforcement. The FAA’s primary mission is to ensure the safety of the National Airspace System. If you’re enforcing laws, you definitely should know better and that’s the position they take.

Getting a UAS operation up and running can be done if there is buy in from management and the public. Establishing a vision and setting goals for how the UAS program should operate sets the path to success. Identifying who will be the pilots, what the deployment guidelines are, how it impacts public perception, and the authorization to conduct the flight are important considerations to a successful program.

The last piece of the puzzle should be identifying a suitable platform for the operation. We know of dozens of public safety agencies who have wasted valuable resources by purchasing a UAS before understanding what the mission is. This is a crucial piece that requires careful consideration.

There are several companies that have been accused of questionable business practices in that they were surreptitiously collecting metadata from the UAS and sending this same information back to servers in a foreign country. In essence, the manufactures were/are spying without the knowledge of the operator. While this may not seem to be a major concern if UAS are used solely to document an accident scene, what happens when the mission is expanded to include critical infrastructure?

The information contained here just scratches the surface of the thought process of engaging in UAS operations. Leach Strategic Partners have been engaged in the industry and has a proven track record of assisting departments in getting their UAS programs up and running. We will gladly sit down and discuss the finer points of establishing a successful UAS operation.

Contact Leach Strategic Partners for further discussion on this topic or for other questions your agency may have regarding the use of UAS and your mission.

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