IAFC 150 anniversary logo
UAS Tactics

Operational Abilities for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

UAS technologies offer a tremendous leap forward in capabilities for the fire service. Not only do they give smaller departments the ability to have an aerial program without expensive aircraft, pilots and the maintenance associated with those assets, but the potential for entirely new strategies and tactics could change operations drastically.

Assigned to traditional fire service roles, examples and considerations for non-traditional means of delivering service through UAS are below.

Structural Firefighting

  • Rapid 360 surveys for buildings which would ordinarily delay a view of all sides
  • View the interior of large structures (for example malls, high-rises, and warehouses) through not only high-resolution video, but thermal imagery as well
  • Use the same capability to assess the viability of roof operations
  • Get a small "heaving line" to upper floors so that heavier items can be pulled up
  • Record incidents for investigation, documentation, and training
  • Conduct pre-planning more rapidly and back it up with video imagery to be used during incidents

Wildland Firefighting

  • Conduct assessments of smoke sightings and ascertain their extent and correct location
  • Determine the direction of fire movement for the most effective assignment of resources
  • Perform backlighting rapidly and with fewer personnel
  • Triage exposures rapidly
  • Track crews more efficiently
  • Record burn patterns and associated documentation for further investigation and prevention activities


  • Whether on water, ice, forest, desert, mountains or any terrain feature, survey the search area to focus resources where they are needed most.
  • Use thermal imaging in combination with aerial surveillance for elderly, youth, or mentally disabled victims.
  • Deliver food, water and an emergency blanket to someone remotely trapped or deliver a life jacket to someone in distress on the water.
  • Survey MVAs spread over a large area or over embankments that slow traditional responses
  • Provide video and thermal imagery of victims trapped in confined spaces, high-angle entanglements, or rubble piles without placing personnel in danger

Hazardous Materials

  • Determine the location, product, and extent of leakage without putting personnel in Level A suits, even for incidents spread out over large areas, such as train derailments or industrial accidents
  • Monitor the atmosphere safely and rapidly over multiply areas using only one person
  • Monitor hot zone work in real time using high-resolution and thermal imaging
  • Document the event for further training, after-action reports, and legal issues

Emergency Medical Services

  • Rapidly provide an AED to a remote scene that would ordinarily delay response
  • Determine the areas of greatest need as well as the most efficient location of treatment and transport groups for mass casualty incidents
  • Surveil mass gatherings or events spread out over large areas

Disaster Response

  • Conduct rapid damage assessments with high-resolution imagery for documentation purposes
  • View levees, flood walls and other mitigation efforts to assess weak spots
  • Rapidly notify people in need of action over large areas with verbal notification
  • Evaluate the viability of roads to determine the best evacuation or response routes.
  • Document response, damage, and the effects of disasters for FEMA reporting


  • Give your governing entity and the community you serve a better understanding of your capabilities as well as your needs
  • Become a partner with the other agencies you serve with to increase the value of your agency
  • Use in place of helicopters which are grounded due to weather
  • Provide scene illumination to all categories of incidents


RED Team Live Fire Training
The Austin Fire Department's Robotics Emergency Deployment Team (RED) recently participated in a multi-alarm, live fire training drill with members of the Austin Fire Department to learn how aerial video can be helpful to crews on the ground.

Wimberley Fire Department First to use Drones in Rescue Efforts
The Austin and Wimberley Fire Departments have created the Robotic Emergency Response Team (RED team), to assist in finding victims on the ground and help in making critical decisions during an event.

Rescue Robots Helping Austin Firefighters Save Lives

Firefighting Drones Can Help Diminish Fires in Tall Buildings

Drones Being Used in Phoenix Fire Department

UMD UAS Test Site Hosts Public Safety Demonstration for First Responders

UAS Magazine

  • Topics:
    • UAS
    • Technology
  • Resource Type:
    • Strategy development tool
    • 1-pager/ summary/ infographic
  • Organizational Author:
    • IAFC

Related Resources

  • *Dashboard URL: https://iafc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/4a203738af5148d0a33ac92d822ae1bb GIS dashboard provides state declarations and closings for the U.S. Enlarge dashboard* read more
  • Access this resource FEMA released expanded capabilities to the Resilience Analysis and Planning Tool (RAPT) related to coronavirus pandemic planning and response efforts. The tool is a free-to-use GIS web map tool that allows users to combine layers of community resilience indicators, ... read more
  • Automated vehicles (AVs) represent an emerging technology already providing consumer benefits for vehicle safety. It’s important that fire chiefs and personnel are up to date as growth and change in this technology and the regulations and standards that govern it ... read more
You are not logged in.