Public safety drones have and continue to save lives and enhance the operational safety and effectiveness of many public safety organizations in the United States. Globally, a recent DJI study documented over 260 incidents where drones have played a direct role in saving lives.


Following the 2018 Hurricanes Harvey (Texas), Irma (Florida) and Maria (Puerto Rico), public safety drones took to flight like never before with thousands of successful missions alongside manned aircraft with no significant issues or conflict.

These missions provided invaluable situational awareness in the areas of rescues, flooding, road status, damage assessment and more. Drones are being used to monitor structure fires, wildfires, hazmat incidents, technical rescues, water rescues, law enforcement tactical ops (active shooter, hostage situations, SWAT), search for lost persons, shark patrols along beaches, assist lifeguard rescues, forensic investigations, traffic crash reconstruction, damage assessments following disasters, volcanic activity and many more applications.

In May 2018, the Bard Center for the Study of the Drone published a report identifying that there were over 900 public safety agencies that had received a Certificate of Authorization (COA). A COA provides public agencies with FAA authority to fly an unmanned aircraft system (UAS). While the Bard report identified agencies with COAs, it did not identify the public safety agencies flying under the 14 CFR Part 107 (Part 107) FAA rules. In Virginia, the number of organizations flying under Part 107 equaled the number of organizations with COAs doubling the number of public safety UAS programs from 26 to 52. It is reasonable to conclude similar trends exist throughout the country. Additionally, the increased pace of public safety implementation of UAS programs combined with this statistical data would suggest there are over 2000 public safety UAS programs in the United States.

This expansive adoption of public safety drones is still a new frontier as there was no centralized or sufficient published information to assist organizations in the implementation of a drone program. As for training, there are many variations of training programs but no national standard for training curriculum and there are no minimum training requirements for a public safety remote pilot.

Based on the benefits that drone programs provide public safety organizations and the gap in the area of supporting information, the DRONERESPONDERS Public Safety Alliance nonprofit (DRONERESPONDERS.ORG) was formed in April 2019. Since its launch, with the announcement of an impressive Board of Advisors, DRONERESPONDERS has become the fastest growing national organization focused specifically on public safety drone operations with over 600 members and participants from 26 countries.

DRONERESPONDERS’ mission is to enable shared UAS knowledge/training, standardized equipment/certifications, a global public safety UAS directory and professional/proficient UAS operations.

To support public safety organizations with drone programs or interested in starting one, DRONERESPONDERS provides an online Resource Center with over 300 public safety UAS documents — SOPs, best practices, lessons learned, checklists, training programs, task-books and reports. In order to access the Resource Center, you must join DRONERESPONDERS (it’s free).

DRONERESPONDERS also implemented a Technical Expert Program (over 100 technical experts) which includes representation from public safety, government, non-government organizations, academia and industry. These TEs will support the Discussion Forum (due to launch in September), serve as mentors to organizations and ambassadors for DRONERESPONDERS. For people with specific drone expertise interested in joining the TEP, you must be a member of DRONERESPONDERS and have an extensive background in the field of public safety drones. If interested and wish to be considered, please send an e-mail with contact information and credentials to charles@droneresponders.org.

DRONERESPONDERS is an organization focused on building an inclusive public safety UAS community that provides the means to communicate, coordinate and collaborate with and between public safety, government, non-government organizations, academia and industry to advance the implementation of public safety drone programs that ensure safe and effective operations in the National Airspace.

Join DRONERESPONDERS and become involved, share information or to simply access the Resource Center. DRONERESPONDERS is open to ALL!

DRONERESPONDERS is also excited to partner with Carolina Fire Rescue EMS Journal to provide regular updates on public safety drones.

Charles Werner is the retired Charlottesville fire chief and 45 year public safety veteran. After retirement, Charles worked with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management for two years as senior advisor/acting deputy state coordinator. Werner served in numerous leadership roles at the local, state, national levels on public safety communications, GIS, broadband, information sharing, thermal imaging, enhanced location technology, FirstNet and drones. He serves as Director-DRONERESPONDERS Public Safety Alliance, Chair-National Council on Public Safety UAS and was appointed by Governor Northam to serve on the Secure & Resilient Commonwealth Panel. Charles is an author with 120+ internationally published articles. In 2018, was selected Homeland Security Person of the Year by Homeland Security Today Magazine for work on public safety initiatives.

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