Technology continues to expand and elevate the capabilities for emergency responders. Most recently, one of those technology advancements for fire and emergency services has been in the form of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that can be used as eyes on target without endangering the lives of responders worldwide. UAS can capture a new point of view and help greatly with gathering operational intelligence and observing tactical approaches.
Any new technology offers both opportunities and challenges, and UAS is no different. As interest grows in the use of UAS vehicles, areas of interest to the public-safety community include:
- Who can fly them
- What training is needed
- Where can they safely be flown
- What type of devices can they carry
- Privacy concerns
- Federal, state and local regulations
To address these questions and fully examine the potential benefits, Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, IAFC president and chair of the board, stood up a new task force in August 2015 at Fire-Rescue International (FRI). The UAS task force is being led by Chief Keith Bryant, IAFC president 2014-2015. Its members have been charged with
- Evaluating the current state of UAS policy, procedures, tactics and technology as they impact the fire and emergency service.
- Providing recommendations to the IAFC board on future steps for engagement.
The task force has met a number of times since FRI. It’s working to address issues, including defining the needs, challenges and opportunities that UAS’s might bring to the fire and emergency service. Collaboration with such partners as the FAA and NFPA has begun so we can identify resources for members. Additional coordination between the FAA and the IAFC has taken place to enhance communication between regulators and the fire and emergency service to ensure our interests are represented.
The task force is also looking at developing a model guide to help members implement or expand a UAS program. While the technology and regulation is evolving quickly, the IAFC is committed to providing guidance and access to subject-matter experts to the fire and emergency service.
The IAFC regards UAS as an important and viable way to improve firefighter safety through technology. Unmanned systems are cost-effective and efficient and avoid subjecting emergency-response personnel to hazardous environments. Not only can they save the lives of fire and emergency service personnel, but they’ll allow better-informed decisions to be made by increasing situational awareness and so reducing risk to those on scene.