A recent panel discussion on best practices for small electric unmanned aviation, or drones, was recorded and is available on the FAA’s YouTube page. The video is attached below if you’d like to see it, but scroll down to read my summary instead.
The panel’s members were:
Mark Colborn, a retired reserve senior corporal, is the manager of the Special Operations Support Center (SOSC) of the FAA. Mike Oshea worked for the DOJ’s office of resources for the FAA before. Drone initiative was led by Richard Fields of the Los Angeles City Fire Department. Scott Harris, USAF Reserve Special Agent for the FAA’s Law Enforcement Assistance Program WHAT DO THEY WISH THEY KNEW BEFORE BEGINNING? What individuals wish they understood before launching drone support programs for public safety was the first question the panelists were asked.
Mark Colborn, who established Dallas PD’s drone program, was mentioned first by the presenter. He claims that when they first got going, they made a costly learning error by picking the incorrect drones, which forced them to use infrared cameras. Why? because they were hurried. He believes they ought to have requested additional auxiliary equipment, such as cars to transport the drones, support tools, streaming video to incident commanders, etc. In other words, it’s important to have the proper tools.
According to Richard Fields of the Los Angeles City Fire Department, the program’s gradual expansion to increase sustainability was fortunate. They quickly realized that they required more than they had anticipated and that they required a long-term strategy to maintain the program. It was difficult to get everyone in the department, outside agencies, and the FAA to communicate with one another.
According to Michael OShea from the FAA, he informs people beginning new projects that the FAA is there to assist and can put them in touch with experts. Sometimes they advise a newly founded agency to work in partnership with another agency that already has a more established program. He also directs them to useful online FAA tools that educate public safety organizations on rules, licenses, and other issues.
The FAA strives to assist local and state agencies in enforcing their portion of the drone issue, according to Scott Harris, the agency’s LEAP agent (Law Enforcement Assistance Program). By emailing UAShelp@faa.gov or calling 844-FLY-MY-UA and requesting LEAP, law enforcement can get in touch with around 30 LEAP agents who are dispersed throughout the United States. The FAA’s role is to aid law enforcement in understanding drone regulations. In addition, LEAP conducts extensive outreach and training for both manned and unmanned aircraft.
Local drone operations are additionally supported by Kerry Fleming from the FAA Special Operations Support Center (SOSC). On a project I completed with the New Mexico DOT, I personally collaborated with SOSC. Governmental organizations frequently grant you special authorization when they urgently need to do something unexpected or that calls for a waiver if they can assess that it can be done safely. When the Drone Zone or LAANC can’t grant you authorization to do something that’s against the law quickly enough, they’re a helpful resource for authorities that need to move quickly.
Public safety and other government drone operators should undoubtedly have SOSC on fast dial.
Additionally, they advised contacting the FSDO (Flight Services), other governmental organizations with well-established programs, and their state governments.
WHERE SHOULD DRONE OPERATORS FOR AGENCIES CONSIDER BEST PRACTICES? The Dallas Police Department’s Mark Colborn advised departments to make sure they engage the public and get their support. There should be communication with the county commissioners, the city council, the media, and others. He also suggests treating drones seriously. It’s simple to get into difficulty and forget that they’re aircraft. Drones are typically an additional task for police personnel, but the Dallas police force employs drone operators full-time. He advises doing that.
He returned later and stated that procedures, including a goal for the drone people, should be in place first.
In particular, Richard Fields (LA Fire) agreed with Mark that it should be taken seriously. Additionally, he suggests standardization, particularly when there are numerous agencies in a given area (his area has 31). Working safely and collaboratively is facilitated by making sure everyone is on the same page. Another important one is relationships at work (and, from my graduate studies, hes definitely right). Drones will be more helpful and safe if more individuals are familiar with one another before something goes wrong. Finally, he claims that rather than replacing manned operations, drones should be viewed as force multipliers.
DO PART 107 CERTIFICATIONS FOR PUBLIC SAFETY PERSONNEL NEED TO BE OBTAINED? Michael OShea provided a response. According to him, public safety organizations don’t necessarily need to obtain a 107, but they do need to create an aviation program for public safety that involves drone operators. For an operator to operate safely in the airspace, such a program must have documentation of their training. Even when flying under a COA rather than 107 regulations, the Part 107 is typically the simplest way to accomplish that.
Instead of establishing a 107-based program, public safety initiatives can use a COA as a certificate. Additionally, COAs can be issued for unique circumstances (via SOSC) to obtain additional authorization and permissions outside of the bounds of the usual. A department may also apply for waivers through SOSC if it uses 107 operators rather of a COA.
The 107 is highly, highly, extremely recommended, according to Richard Fields (LA Fire), even if the organization prefers to fly by different regulations.
Dallas used a NIST test for drone proficiency where operators must fly about carrying out duties like searching in buckets, Mark (Dallas PD) noted. Of course they have their 107, but it also aids in developing muscle memory for working closely. Although it’s not necessary, he believes it’s a decent standard to teach people to. Dallas also administers annual certifications.
ARE DRONES USEFUL IN PLACES WHERE AIRCRAFT ARE NOT? They also talked about the areas where drones have special capabilities.
Helicopters are already present in Richard Fields’ (LA Fire) area, but they are highly expensive to run. Due to cost or pilot fatigue, this results in gaps in capabilities. While helicopters cannot always relay imagery to many recipients, drones can. Drones can fill the need for helicopter water droppers dropping on wildland fires to not be able to observe everything.
Drones greatly assist with protests, according to Dallas PD’s Mark Colborn. Drones saved a lot of money while offering similar assistance during the recent protests following the recent Supreme Court abortion ruling. However, it’s important to keep in mind that drones can only perform certain of the tasks that helicopters can, so nobody will lose their jobs as a result of this.
The group made some interesting suggestions on how to set up and manage a public safety drone program, and they explored a few additional topics at the conclusion, which you can watch in the video above.
Screenshot of the FAA panel discussion via YouTube as the featured image (embedded here).
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