The research was conducted by DRONERESPONDERS, a non-profit that promotes drone use for public safety. The program aims to bring together first responders across the country who utilize UAVs in their operations.
Its mission objectives include standardizing UAS certification and equipment, sharing drone-related knowledge, and promoting professional safety operations.
DRONERESPONDERS also aims to have a global directory listing emergency UAS assets.
Key research findings
According to the research:
- 75% of public safety agencies are either operating or actively seeking to implement a UAS program. This underscores just how much the sector depends on drones.
- Close to 80% of American operators with a UAS program are either pursuing or have an FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification.
- More than 35% of public safety UAS operators utilize the FAA’s LAANC protocol for airspace requests.
- Not all safety agencies with a UAS program necessarily follow aviation protocols in regards to safety and risk management.
Most problems faced by these agencies are attributable to the rapid integration of drones in their operations. They’re still grappling to make the best of this new technology while maintaining the highest operational standards.
In the past, less than 1% of American public safety agencies had aviation resources. The booming UAV market swiftly changed this situation. By 2018, the number of agencies with a UAS program had grown by 82% year over year.
What started as experimentation by drone enthusiasts soon saw widespread adoption by the entire sector.
DJI’s extremely dependable, affordable prosumer drones also made UAS adoption a cost-effective strategy. Examples include the best selling Mavic and Phantom series.
Data management problems
Data acquisition and analysis are key aspects of UAS missions. A professional drone program should effectively manage acquired data and reduce the risk of unintended sharing. The threat of data breaches is all too real, as are privacy concerns.
Although traditional IT systems have solid data management procedures, the ever-changing nature of UAV operations makes it harder to monitor and standardize.
Unlike manned aircraft, a majority of UAS depend on ground control stations (GCS) to transmit data.
An unauthorized party could hypothetically seize control of the station, sensors or control link. This could trigger serious safety, security, or privacy occurrences.
There are also real concerns about the flight and payload data collected by drones on behalf of manufacturers.
Since the majority of public safety programs also collect sensitive information, law enforcement officials have expressed concern about how it’s handled.
DJI drones are a prime example. Although the company makes high-quality products at affordable prices, the fact that it’s Chinese elicits distrust from some government quarters.
How standardized certification helps
DRONERESPONDERS also discovered a sizeable number of companies claiming to offer expert UAS training. Some do so without really explaining their level of expertise, or what authorizes them to make such claims.
Such haphazard training and certification programs are not only risky for public safety UAV operators, but for their manned aviation counterparts as well. They don’t feel safe flying in the same airspace as drone pilots with questionable credentials.
The two pilot categories also suffer from a lack of clearly defined communication protocols.
Other than making safety operations harder to perform, they also increase costs for the entire public safety sector. For instance, this uncertainty makes UAV insurance more expensive than it would be in a properly regulated environment.
DRONERESPONDERS recommends the development of operational proficiency in various mission scenarios. Rather than considering Part 107 remote pilot certification as the ultimate credential, UAS operators should treat is as a basic requirement.
That way, they can aim for more thorough training and certification. Mission planning should also go beyond UAV piloting and encompass all aspects of the UAS. These include data gathering, transmitting, analysis, and output.
Finally, all relevant stakeholders must be included in coming up with standards and certifications for public safety UAS. Other than the FAA, the Airborne Public Safety Association (APSA) can take a leading role in that regard.
As UAVs become increasingly sophisticated, they’re bound to become indispensable to public safety operators. The cost savings, increased safety, and massive data collection potential they present make them a natural choice for public agencies.
Hopefully, this latest research by DRONERESPONDERS will help speed up the adoption of standardized training and certification for UAS operators in the crucial sector.