Growing a Successful Public Safety Drone Program – Year on year we continue to see incredible examples of how drones are being used to improve various aspects of public safety. Across the world we can see departments such as law enforcement, fire fighting as well as search and rescue successfully implement and grow their own drone programs.
Growing your own drone program requires careful consideration. It is not simply about buying a drone, getting trained and starting to fly. As much as we enjoy discussing the success stories of agencies around the world, we never hear about the programs that fell at a hurdle too large.
The very first question that must be asked is do you really need a drone program? This is essential in providing an objective analysis of the needs of your organisation.
Once you make an objective assessment of your organisation’s needs, only then can you identify possible applications and develop a compelling business case or indeed improved safety case. Here we will discuss the main considerations in establishing and growing a drone program. As well as this, some of the pitfalls such programs have run into in the past which have either halted growth or led to the program being abandoned.
Goals, Needs and Direction
A great place to start is by defining the goals of the agency. Some of the advantages drones can offer within the context of public safety are faster response times, reduced risk to personnel, providing a more informed approach to the scene and delivering better solutions in real time. These are some of the main reasons why any public safety agency would consider starting and subsequently growing a drone program. Getting this right means the agency can establish a solid base upon which such a program can grow and provide its intended value.
Once the leadership within the agency is satisfied that these goals are desired, the needs and direction can be tailored to the type of work that they carry out.
The needs of agencies will differ slightly however, the fundamental considerations and questions must be answered clearly in a convincing manner to successfully grow the program with real direction.
The types and number of drones and sensors.
The number of personnel to be trained and certified.
The type of regulation the aviation authority and the given public safety agency requires.
Setting standard operating procedures within the agency.
Securing funding for maintained and successful growth.
Being able to prove the return on investment both in terms of safety and financial.
The list above is not exhaustive however, these are absolutely essential to allow any program to flourish.
Not all drones and sensors are equal, choosing one over another can really make a difference in fulfilling the needs and goals of the agency. Battery life, RGB or thermal sensing and even noise levels can all have an effect on the drone and sensor required. Second to this is the number of personnel that the agency needs to train to reach the potential demand for any given mission. Although it may be an easy choice to start with one individual, how can the agency pick the right people for the job to successfully grow?
A potential hurdle for some in growing a successful public safety drone program may be the national aviation authorities regulatory restrictions. As a public safety agency it is essential to operate at a moment’s notice potentially anywhere urban or rural. The agency would first have to identify whether such restrictions affect their operations. As part of this, good standard operating procedures will have to be put in place to show that the agency is competent to carry out missions safely. These procedures are important to set standards as the program grows and provide a strong framework from which operators can work within.
Finally, securing funding and the ability to prove the return on investment. For public safety agencies funding may not be extensive unlike their commitment to safety. The real return on investment is probably not financial but most likely increased safety to victims and personnel. As good as plans can be, taking action can begin to really get the ball rolling. Agencies may consider a low risk strategy to both prove the return on investment and determine their direction.
A great way to start and begin to see what direction your drone program could take is to start with a low risk strategy. Purchase a lower end spec drone and begin to deploy it on low risk operations to understand the potential drones offer to the agency. Although this requires up front investment, training and certifying personnel, it can greatly help in proving or disproving the potential return on investment of drones. This is a highly valuable way to see how a drone program may positively impact operations and how the program would grow. Simply put, a low risk proof of concept.
Scaling Out The Program
Once the public safety agency’s goals, needs and directions are defined, beginning to scale out the program is a natural extension of a good start. That being said, pitfalls do exist and major considerations must be noted.
Increasing the number of drones.
Finding the staff to upskill, train and certify.
Diversifying the types of sensors for a variety of operations.
Maintaining and developing standard operating procedures on a rolling basis.
Expanding data storage capability and security.
Ensuring the quality of operations does not slip.
Continuing to secure funding and prove the return of investment for the agency.
Choosing which drones and how many the agency should acquire may take some time. This is a substantial capital investment and should be given serious consideration. The deciding factor will be the type of operations the agency wishes to carry out. For small scale fires a small drone may suffice such as the mavic series however for long police surveillance a larger platform may be required. That being said, if two crews can be deployed by law enforcement on the same mission, two smaller drones may suffice. This is just one of the many possible examples that each agency must consider before scaling their hardware.
Scaling trained, competent, certified and confident operators may be a little more difficult. Inherently public safety drone response involves pressure. Even having a large number of operators, missions must be able to be carried out in a professional and efficient manner. These personnel will also be responsible for maintaining good standard operating procedures throughout all operations. This will ensure good public reputation of the use of drones, maintained safety of operations and in the end better results and outcomes.
Finally, with the successful roll out of scaled operations the return on investment will be clear. Drones have clear benefits for public safety agencies and introducing a drone program can help improve response times, outcomes, personnel safety, emergency information and more. That being said, many pitfalls exist and should be taken into consideration. It is down to each individual agency to objectively analyse the case for a drone program. Once introduced it requires due diligence to maintain and scale out.
Growing a Successful Public Safety Drone Program can present itself with a number of challenges for which Survey Drones Ireland can best advice on. Survey Drones Ireland, is Ireland’s only DJI Enterprise Official Silver Partner. For more information, contact one of our experts at Survey Drones Ireland who will be more than willing to assist you in finding what suits your needs.
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