Public Safety Drones, Training and Proficiency

One of the significant needs that have been identified by a recent DRONERESPONDERS study report regarding public safety drones is the area of standardized training. 


Standardized training needs include a standardized public safety UAS curriculum, training materials, scenario-based exercises and ways to measure practical flight proficiency. Fortunately, there are a number of initiatives and resources that are moving forward with noting. In January 2020, ASTM International approved and published the F3379-20 Standard Guide for Training for Public Safety Remote Pilot of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Endorsement1. This guide covers the minimum training requirements for public safety remote pilots (PS-RPs) as it relates to their general, field and search specific knowledge and skills.

In 2019 the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) received just shy of a million dollars in Fire Prevention and Safety Grant money from FEMA to develop a free public safety drone compliance program that includes educational training and a searchable knowledgebase that tracks fire service drone programs and usage.

As Outlined on the NFPA Website:

Fire departments have rapidly expanded the use of drones as more communities have realized the lifesaving impact that aerial technology can have in response to structural fires, wildland firefighting, search and rescue efforts, hazardous material responses, natural disaster efforts and any other events that would benefit from increased situational awareness.

Although drone safety policies and standards continue to evolve, many U.S. fire departments are without the proper information, knowledge and experience needed to establish and maintain a legally sound public safety program that is compliant with FAA regulations, and the standards produced by ASTM International, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and NFPA. Without proper understanding of how to integrate drones into public safety efforts, fire departments may deploy unmanned aerial devices inaccurately; may inappropriately gather information during an incident; and may interfere with manned and unmanned flight operations in the area. All these missteps needlessly expose fire departments to liability.

The NFPA drone project will generate the guidance, learnings, and best practices that U.S. fire departments need to establish a compliant, successful drone program by:

  • Assessing the current level of understanding, policies, and standards on public safety drone usage
  • Developing a drone program framework, including resources, education, and an accessible portal which allows departments to comply with current regulations and standards
  • Tracking fire service drone programs and their relevant use cases
  • Freely disseminating essential information and training so that departments can establish regionally and nationally compliant public safety drone programs

The new initiative will follow the successful NFPA Emerging Technologies training development and dissemination model that has been in effect since 2010.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA, will begin by performing a literature review of the fire service drone landscape and collecting compliance and usage data.

NFPA will then collaborate with subject matter experts at the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting at the State of Colorado, Department of Fire Services to conduct a comprehensive review of the latest public safety drone usage research, testing, regulations, policy and training content.

The Research Foundation has convened a technical advisory panel consisting of fire authorities, standards developers, public safety officials, emergency managers, researchers, regulators and government leaders to advise on the project’s scope, messaging, curriculum and deliverables.

The NFPA data and analytics team will synthesize the collected information to support curriculum development efforts and populate the portal.

The Research Foundation will host a public safety drone workshop for interested stakeholders and findings will be distributed. Public safety drone subject matter experts and curriculum developers will build a self-paced, interactive online training program, educational videos, and immersive augmented virtual reality tools as part of a full educational suite. The curriculum will cover proper administration, operation, safety and maintenance of public safety drone deployment. All materials, research, and information collected as part of this project will be available for free to U.S. firefighters on the NFPA website. The NFPA data team will build a freely accessible online repository for all information captured, and host all deliverables on a dedicated, interactive, searchable web portal so that departments can upload and search drone action incident reports.

When it comes to training, developing training lanes and measuring practical remote pilot proficiency, NIST has been on the forefront of this for public safety for several years and received numerous prestigious recognitions. NIST has developed the Standard Test Methods for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems. These test methods for small unmanned aircraft systems can be used to quantitatively evaluate various system capabilities and remote pilot proficiency. They are being standardized through the ASTM International Standards Committee on Homeland Security Applications; Response Robots (E54.09). They are also referenced as Job Performance Requirements in the National Fire Protection Association Standard for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Used for Public Safety Operations (NFPA 2400). These test methods are primarily intended for vertical takeoff and landing systems with an onboard camera and remote pilot display. Some tests are also applicable to fixed wing systems when the lane dimensions are extended to accommodate the orbit radius of forward flying aircraft.

Lane features include:

  • Pilot flight line for safety — A-frame as lane marker.
  • Centerline using 100 foot (30m) measuring tape
  • Launch/Land platform to measure accuracy
  • Bucket stands with vertical and angled white buckets that can be stowed and transported
  • Optional outriggers that enable bucket stands to be leveled on uneven terrain
  • Apparatus spacing is 10 feet (3m)
  • Flight altitudes are 10 feet (3m) and 20 feet (6m).
  • Overall length is 50 feet (15m)
  • Fits on a basketball or tennis court
  • Indoor or outdoor use

The NIST Standard Test Methods for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems are available for all public safety to access and use. DRONERESPONDERS has partnered with NIST to promote and facilitate the use of these test lanes to assist public safety agencies train and measure practical navigational proficiency. Cost of materials necessary to implement the basic test lane are less than $100 and information is available for download in the DRONERESPONDERS Resource Center at DRONERESPONDERS.ORG. Membership is free.

In order to move forward and continue to safely implement public safety drone programs, public safety must address and engage with sound, effective and standardized training. DRONERESPONDERS is dedicated to this cause by partnering with NIST, ASTM, the NFPA Research Center Grant Technical Advisory Panel and other organizations to support the continued advancement of public safety unmanned aircraft systems.

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