First Responders assemble across Sacramento region for drone introduction

While the rest of us were thinking about our loved ones on Valentine's Day this year, first responders from across the northern California region gathered in Elk Grove to learn about the safe and legal use of drones from the nation's top expert on using drones for civil search and rescue missions.  

As drones become more common and capable platforms for hobbyists, businesses, and entrepreneurs, our first responders and public safety professionals see great potential for these innovations in robotics to help save lives, make better decisions in critical situations, and be more effective with taxpayer dollars.  Just within the past month in the northern California region, our emergency services have faced historic rains with flooding, a train derailment, and the Oroville Dam crisis.  The Ghost Ship artist warehouse fire in Oakland at the end of 2016 was another tragedy that could have benefited more from the rapid, safe, and effective use of aerial drones.

Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, California

Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, California

As with any new technology, the learning curve can be very steep and full of new challenges.  In the case of drones, these challenges aren't only technological.  The legal and regulatory framework for using drones in our national airspace system (NAS) is in a perpetual state of flux and uncertainty due to the slow and incremental roll out of regulations from the FAA. 

For people who take a safety-first approach and don't want additional risks or complications, this has slowed the adoption of drones for first responders as compared to hobbyists, entrepreneurs, and diverse industries.  But first responders in the Sacramento region are now learning faster and smarter thanks to being introduced to the nation's top expert on the topic. 

Gene Robinson is a firefighter in the Wimberley (Texas) Fire Department.  He has the unique distinction of 13 official rescue/recoveries in non-military search and rescue (SAR) missions using aerial drones. He literally wrote the first how-to book on the topic of drones for emergency responders and search and rescue: First To Deploy.  His experience with drones as a firefighter stretches over 10 years, into 30 states and five countries.  Together with Texas Peace Officer John Buell, he founded Drone Pilot, Inc.  Their company specializes in equipping and training first response departments across the country with drone technologies. 

In partnership with Drone Pilots Federation, a worldwide educational non-profit organization based in Sacramento, first responders from across northern California were treated to a presentation from Gene Robinson and John Buell on February 14th.  They assembled at the Cosumnes Fire Department Training Facility in Elk Grove, California.

Assisting with the informational meeting was another leader in the unmanned aviation industry, Patrick Egan.  Patrick is the Americas Desk Editor of sUAS News, a leading news provider in the unmanned aviation world.  He is also the Executive Producer of the annual Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo which is held in Silicon Valley every spring (May 4-6 in 2017).

Joining the 40+ first responders in the room was Bruce Parks, President of Drone Pilots Federation, and Brett Hoffstadt, PMP, Vice-President of Drone Pilots Federation.

Highlights from the DRONES FOR FIRST RESPONDERS presentation included:

  • 6 myths (and the facts) about drones when used for public safety and by first responders in communities
  • 6 missions where drones provide new or unique value (more safety, less cost, higher quality and more timely information)
  • Actual video footage of a drone with Forward-Looking Infra Red (FLIR) identifying a fugitive attempting to hide in the woods.  The man's heat signature was immediately obvious, as was the fact that he was unarmed.  This knowledge led to his rapid apprehension without the use of deadly force.
  • Actual video footage of a drone assisting fire fighters at an apartment building fire on the edge of a cliff.  The drone was able to assist in the best placement of ladder trucks, search for possible trapped victims without risking firefighter safety, and show detailed structural damage in real time to the on-scene commander.
  • The top 3 mistakes that public safety departments and agencies make when they try to establish a drone program
  • The 6 most important principles to establish a safe, legal, and successful unmanned aerial system program in a jurisdiction

When asked what departments and agencies need to do when they are ready to move beyond the curiosity phase, Patrick Egan recommended the Eyes Overhead(C) 30,000-Foot Unmanned Aircraft Program Administrator Course from Drone Pilot, Inc.  Taught by Gene Robinson and John Buell, this 2-day intensive course teaches administrators of public safety agencies how to build a safe, legal, and effective small unmanned aerial system program for their jurisdiction.  Participants receive the tools and knowledge they need to know when, where, how, and what to fly for their unique needs. Who they need to fly the missions, including the training requirements, is also covered by those who have been doing it for years.

Participants also receive credit towards the 100-hour Training Program. This is currently the nation's only operationally representative proficiency-based unmanned system training program for public safety professionals, by public safety professionals.

The 2-day 30,000-ft UA Program Administrator Course will be held in Sacramento, California on March 27th and 28th, 2017. This course is for any first responder departments or agencies who are currently using or plan to use unmanned aerial systems.  Local, state, and federal departments are all welcome.  To inquire about this training session or be notified about registration details, please click the image below.