UAVs shed their novelty for law enforcement and emergency responders

11 August 2017
Law enforcement and disaster response agencies in the United States show a growing appetite for UAVs (pictured is a UAV that was used to provide emergency responders with an aerial view of a warehouse following a fire in December 2016 in Oakland, California). Source: Getty/Elijah Nouvelage

While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) works with industry partners on developing the best method for integrating unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System, the emergency services, disaster-relief organisations, and law enforcement agencies continue to show interest in the technology.

The Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College calculates that about 350 state and local police, sheriff, fire and emergency units in the United States have acquired UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in recent years. “More acquisitions took place in 2016 than in the previous years combined, and the pace of acquisitions shows no sign of slowing down,” it added in an April 2017 report.

Small UAVs have already proven their worth to police: in March 2017, for instance, they used a UAV to find USD400,000 of stolen construction equipment in Maryland; and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has successfully demonstrated how a UAV could locate ‘dirty bombs’.

In academia, researchers have developed a prototype UAV equipped with remote sensors and cameras to detect and map transportation infrastructure damage in the aftermath of a natural disaster; and a team at the Oklahoma State University School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering developed a concept in which a swarm of small UAVs would fly into tornadoes and send back real-time data to first responders and weather forecasters.

Meanwhile, for the first time, firefighters in New York City in March 2017 used a tethered UAV, equipped with high-definition and infrared cameras, to monitor the roof of a building that was in danger of collapsing.

“This new technology is going to make a positive impact in our fire operations,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “The drone’s camera gave our chiefs a view they never had before. It’s an important tool that will make our members, and the people we protect, even safer.”

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