Drones for First Response (DFR)

Drones are becoming an essential tool for Police, Fire, and all Emergency Response.  A drone can be deployed to an incident faster and safer than personnel and vehicles.  The early on-site vision gives commanders and the full team a view of the incident allowing fast evaluation and efficient deployment of resources.  Drones are the essential tool for the limited resource of trained personnel for emergency response. 

Mission Critical Drones

Effective use of drones for emergency response requires that drones are always ready for fast deployment.  Drones must be fully re-charged and reliable data communications confirmed.  Drone readiness is mission critical for emergency response.

Why is a Drone Hanger Needed?

The drone hanger provides a secure and monitored environment for drone storage, re-charge, and safe deployment.  The drone hanger provides the commander with detailed information that proves the drone is ready for service.  This includes:  Battery Charge Status, Storage Temperature, Visual Pre-Flight Inspection, Data Communications Integrity, Weather Temperature, Wind Speed and Direction, Humidity, Precipitation.

The drone hanger provides a safe environment for drone launch and return with visual and audible signals, voice annunciators, and area cameras to assure that people are safely clear of the launch area.

What are Essential Functions of the Drone Hanger?

  • Protect drone from wind, precipitation, dust, insects
  • Maintain drone storage temperature with heating and cooling
  • Automatic drone battery re-charge
  • Secure Data Communications to remote pilot in command
  • Safe area for launch with visual and audible warning and voice commands
  • Pre-flight visual inspection of drone with in-hanger camera
  • Confirmation of drone transponder, visual aids, and other instrumentation
  • Backup power battery-pack with optional generator for assured power
  • Simple Visual Observer skill set and readiness for beyond visual line of sight operation.

The drone hanger is a known start for safe drone readiness and operation.  Portable drone operations with variable storage, charging, transportation, launch location, wireless data integrity, and variable skill levels take away from the assured readiness required for Drones as Emergency Response.


FAA Regulatory Environment

Drone use by Emergency Services or anyone is governed primarily by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules for drone use. These are fundamentally stated in 14 CFR Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (FAR Part 107).  Lets define some key terms and acronyms:

DFR: Drone as First Responder. Drone use by police, fire, and emergency services.

SUAS: Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Drone.

VO: Visual Observer. A person observing the launch and location of the drone, primarily to warn of other aircraft in the area of drone operation.

BVLOS: Beyond Visual Line of Sight.  Drone operation beyond the limitations of the Visual Observer.  And TBVLOS: Tactical BVLOS.  Temporary authorization for emergency services use in special circumstances.

RPIC: Remote Pilot in Command.  When the drone is controlled remotely, this is the person in Command.

COA: Certificate of Authorization.  Certificate for use issued by FAA

What are the General Restrictions on Drone use

Here are some of the basics of drone use for emergency services professionals or anyone:

  • Prohibited operation and night (under certain conditions no waiver needed)
  • Prohibited over people or vehicles (under certain conditions no waiver needed)
  • Prohibited within 3+ miles of a stadium or event
  • Prohibited beyond visual line of sight
  • Prohibited near airports or manned aircraft
  • Prohibited over 400 feet above ground
  • Requires certification by knowledge and safety test
  • Requires FAA registration and identification of drone.
  • Remote Identification by drone broadcast signal

Is a Waiver Needed or Desired for DFR Use?

As noted above night operation and operation over people do not require a waiver under certain common conditions. 

Night operation is allowed if the drone has a anti-collision flashing visual signal effective over a 3 mile distance.

Operation over People is allowed for drones that weigh 0.55 pounds or less, and contain no exposed rotating parts that would cause lacerations. To operate over people with remote command (RPIC) requires some additional considerations.

To maximize use of a drone as first responder, waivers to requirements may be pursued for (a) Visual Observer, and (b) Visual Line of Site.  These waivers are submitted to the FAA for review and approval of special circumstances.  Importantly these waiver submittals are focused on safety hazard identification, mitigation, and equivalent protection.

What is the FAA Waiver Process?

The waiver process with the FAA requires intense examination of the intended drone operation and the measures taken to meet the safety requirement intention of the rules.  Here is a sample guidance from the FAA on the issues to be addressed for Part 107.31 Visual Line of Sight Aircraft Operation:

1. Describe how the Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) will be able to continuously know and determine the position, altitude, attitude, and movement of his/her small unmanned aircraft (sUA) or drone and ensure the sUA or drone remains in the area of intended operation without exceeding the performance capabilities of the command and control link.

  1. When the RPIC or person operating the small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) or drone cannot see the sUA or drone, how will they know, at all times, the current real-time (1) geographic location, (2) altitude above the ground, (3) attitude (orientation, deck angle, pitch, bank), and (4) direction of flight of the sUA or drone?
  2. If the primary method of maintaining this awareness fails, how will the RPIC maintain current and accurate knowledge of this information?
  3. How will the RPIC determine the operational limits of the command and control link in the flight environment and at the location of flight?

2. Describe how the RPIC will avoid other aircraft, flying over/into people on the ground, and ground-based structures and obstacles at all times.

  1. How will the RPIC see and avoid, or detect and avoid, all other aircraft when operating beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)?
    1. For example, actions taken or procedures followed by the RPIC, use of a Visual Observer(s) (VO), or use of equipment/technology.
  2. How will the RPIC know the location(s) of other aircraft that may be atrisk of hitting the sUA or drone?
  3. How will the sUA or drone yield the right-of-way to all aircraft, airborne vehicles, and launch and reentry vehicles as required by Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) § 107.37?
    1. When operating BVLOS, how will the RPIC identify and avoid flyingover/into persons on the ground (as required by 14 CFR § 107.39)?
  4. If an equipment/technology method is used–
  1. What kind equipment/technology?
  2. How does it work?
  3. How is it tested to determine system reliability and limitations? Consider providing data from the testing used to make those determinations.

3. Describe how the visual conspicuity of the sUA or drone will be increased to be seen at a distance of at least 3 statute miles (mi).

  1. Will the sUA or drone be visible for at least 3 mi in the location where theRPIC will operate?
    1. If yes, how will you accomplish this?
    2. If no, why do other aircraft not need to be able to see your sUA or drone from at least 3 mi?

4. Describe how the RPIC is alerted of a degraded sUAS or drone function.

  1. When flying BVLOS, how will the RPIC be alerted if the sUAS or drone malfunctions or its capability degrades, and how will he/she respond?
  2. Additional sUAS or drone Details: Note: If the sUAS or drone has a determined level of reliability, please provide the following information with your waiver application:
    1. Mean time between failure testing with results
    2. Reliability or maintenance program for the sUAS or drone
    3. Life limits on the sUAS or drone and its components
    4. System architecture
    5. Hardware reliability analysis
    6. Software design assurances and control
    7. Any operational restrictions or limitations associated with this reliability level. For example, altitude limits or airspeed restrictions imposed by the manufacturer or self-imposed by the operator

5. What procedure will be followed to ensure the required persons participating in the operation have relevant knowledge of all aspects of operating a sUA or drone that is not in visual line of sight of the RPIC?

a. If the sUA or drone uses Global Positioning System (GPS) functionality, how will the RPIC determine the GPS signal availability for the flight timeand location, before and during each intended flight?

b. If the sUA or drone uses GPS location to safely operate, what will the RPIC do if the GPS fails to provide location information, or provides reduced GPS position accuracy?

6. Describe how the RPIC will operate the sUA or drone within the weather requirements while en route.

a. When flying BVLOS, how will the RPIC meet the requirements for visibility and cloud clearance specified in 14 CFR § 107.51?

7. Describe the emitters and command and control link used in the sUAS or drone.

  1. Include the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) grant of equipment authorization and FCC ID number for each emitter on the sUA or drone or at the pilot station.
  2. Include the frequency licenses used by the sUA or drone or at the pilot station.
  3. If the equipment is licensed by rule, indicate the FCC rule that applies (e.g., Title 47, CFR § 87.18).
  4. If the frequency is leased, provide a copy of the leasing agreement.
  5. Include a complete description of the emitters.
  6. Frequency or frequencies used to transmit
  7. Antenna type, antenna main beam gain, and antenna pattern
  8. Maximum range
  9. Transmission power in watts and Decibel-milliwatts (dBm)
  10. Emission modulation
  11. Receiver sensitivity
  12. System losses
  13. Acceptable bit error rate

What is Remote Pilot Software for DFR?

Remote pilot software for police fire and emergency services allows for effective use of drones as first responder.  To be effective the software must:

  • Allow for safe flight control of the drone
  • Provide video data of the flight and incident location
  • Log and store video data for future reference, perhaps as evidence
  • Allow sharing of flight and incident location live video by response teams.

The leading DFR software systems are:

Is the software regulated by the FAA?

Our understanding is that the software is not directly regulated or approved by the FAA.  However indirectly the software must be able to maintain drone operation within the framework of FAA regulations for drones.