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UAS for Responders - Now and in the Future

by Mr. Gene Payson and LTC (RET) Fred Bivetto

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) technologies have been exploited for many decades by various defense/military entities. This capability is now forging a global renaissance for non-military, first responders. UAS apply extremely well to dull, dirty or dangerous tasks. Most first responders' duties encompass at least two out of the three – therefore, UAS are a natural fit for this application!

The expansion of UAS in the first responder world is projected to be rapid and significant due to the fact that they save these units TIME, LIVES and MONEY. Since the FAA now regulates commercial UAS operations, industry is investing heavily into research, development and business startups in addition to expansion of public funding/grants governments to stimulate their respective economies.

However, this fervor for technology must be balanced with some degree of resistance and scrutiny by considering the factors of safety and privacy. Since many individuals voluntarily relinquish a degree of their privacy and have accepted the notion of mass video/audio surveillance – safety is projected to be the most serious concern. Cameras and microphones are omnipresent in modern society – TVs, phones, computers, street corners and urban locales. UAS, or flying cameras/microphones, are flown by a pilot and that operator manipulates the sensors for "real time" surveillance – this tends to cause fear (unjustified or not) in the general public. People tend to fear things they do not understand. Can education and/or marketing effect this reaction? If a first responder can save the lives of your family with UAS technology and citizens are educated on this fact; a warmer reception could be expected.

Initially, first responders will use UAS for observation – looking at fires, buildings, people, etc. The array of new sensors available for drones is extensive. EO, IR CIR, Lidar, noxious gases, and many more. Sensor selection should be based on the mission, starting with simple, wide-angle lens cameras. adding zoom/night vision capability, IR, and more "extravagant" technology as required. Operation-wise, UAS may be kept within line of sight of the operator during the day, away from airports and in "good" weather. Eventually, units may be comfortable in transitioning to a more complex system including beyond the line of sight, at night, near airports, and in "bad" weather while coordinating real-time with Air Traffic Control (ATC).

Common uses on the "horizon:"
    • Search and Rescue
    • Monitoring Protests
    • Monitoring special events (marathons, professional sports, rallies)
    • Post storm damage inspection
    • Short range surveillance of fires, people, high value targets

Probable uses in the future:
    • Police Pursuits
    • Chemical spills
    • Nuclear accidents
    • Long range Search and Rescue
    • Long range surveillance of fires, people, high value targets.
    • Search for marijuana (and other illegal plants) farms and grow houses
    • Provide temporary communications when cell towers are down or overloaded
    • Police can fly a UAS through a broken window. Sensors will keep it from crashing into objects and put eyes on targets.

UAS will be used for transportation of products such as medical supplies like a defibrillator or anti-toxins. They can drop life preservers and other smaller objects as well. Fire extinguishers can be carried along with IR cameras to aim at the highest temperature area.

Transportation of products only makes sense if it can be done beyond line of sight, at night, in bad weather and (at times) near airports. Regulated flight lanes, automatic collision detection and avoidance, long battery life and other major hurdles must be overcome to make this a reality – but be sure – all of this is being worked on and this will become a reality for first responders - and it will be sooner rather than later. All of these areas have already been conquered by the military.

UAS will eventually carry non-military defensive and offensive weapons. This is discussed last, not because it is technically difficult, it is that the acceptance of an "armed" drone will be the last stage that the general public will tolerate under very limited and specific circumstances. UAS have already been built to field non-lethal and lethal systems (stun guns, paint balls, gas, etc). People rigging firearms on quadcopters – readily visible on YouTube.

Saving LIVES, TIME and MONEY in a dangerous world with challenging budgetary concerns is a must for all FIRST RESPONDERS. First responders and UAS will be inseparable partners going forward. It is truly a case of "we cannot afford NOT to invest in this enterprise" – there is too much at stake.

About the Author

gene.payson @
Mr. Gene Payson is 30+ year veteran UAS pilot/trainer for the United States Air Force and Unmanned Vehicle University who also conducts private UAS operations consulting. LT COL (RET) Fred Bivetto is 25+ year veteran combat/flight test aviator for the United States Air Force and Unmanned Vehicle University who also conducts private UAS operations consulting.

Unmanned Vehicle University provides first responder training, hardware, software and consulting. We have applied the UAS lessons learned from decades of military experience in hazardous and challenging environments and scenarios. Contact us for further information.

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