EXCLUSIVE: Drones and the future of public safety

BRINC drone - drones as first responders

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Don Redmond, Vice President of Advanced Public Safety Projects at BRINC explains how drones can be utilized as first responders.

Operational intelligence

On 1 October 2017, disaster struck Las Vegas, Nevada when a gunman opened fire into the crowd at the Route 91 music festival.

The tragedy was an operational nightmare for law enforcement agencies responding to the shooting, taking over one and a half hours for first responders to reach the scene and secure the area.

This tragedy impressed upon BRINC Founder Blake Resnick the importance of readily available operational intelligence for these incredibly dangerous scenarios.

We seek to provide a real framework for drones to act as first responders to 911 calls within minutes and bring a new meaning to emergency response for every community in America.

BRINC has focused on creating drones capable of entering structures. Their primary role is to locate suspects, ensure their isolation to prevent self-harm or harm to others and establish communication channels to de-escalate tense situations.

This innovation has swiftly become a crucial tool for first responders. In situations too precarious or hazardous for direct officer involvement, the drone is now essentially being deployed as a “second responder”.

Two years since initial introduction and after working with hundreds of agencies, our team has seen several key issues that impact the vast majority of emergency response units throughout America:

  1. increased scrutiny of officer use of force by the public
  2. dearth of new officers, leading most agencies to be understaffed
  3. an increasingly severe mental health and substance abuse crisis across the country

Due to this, we are focused on deploying drones not just as a second responder, but as a first responder to get initial eyes on scene and deliver emergency medical payloads like an AED or NARCAN when needed.

The goal is to not just get initial response times to under a minute, but close at least a quarter of all calls for service through the drone directly – providing better service to the community and letting understaffed patrol teams focus on critical emergencies.

Benefits of drones as first responders

Drone as first responder (DFR) programs are gaining traction with law enforcement and emergency response agencies across the country and are poised to revolutionize this critical public service.

Drones have innate advantages over ground response in speed and situational awareness.

Equipped with intelligence gathering technology, advanced imaging capabilities and cutting-edge flying software, modern drones provide several key benefits to first responders that provide critical information and offer safer ways to engage in a crisis.

Some of the key advantages include:

Faster response times – drones can be deployed immediately and arrive on scene within seconds, exponentially faster than waiting for dispatch and travel time of police vehicles, ambulances or fire trucks.

A drone positioned atop every police and fire station in America would create a mesh network of emergency response that could save countless lives.

Additionally, drones could assist in determining when emergency responders need to be called to the scene.

According to the National Emergency Number Association, approximately 10 – 15% of 911 calls do not require police or paramedic attention and are classified as non-emergency calls.

Quick-response drones would allow law enforcement and EMS units to have a bird’s eye view of the situation and determine if personnel need to be sent out.

Enhanced situational awareness – an aerial viewpoint provides a unique vantage point to assess emergency scenes before personnel arrive at the scene.

Drones can provide an overhead view of fires, accidents, active shooter events and more from a 360 degree perspective.

These drones often have communications capabilities as well, allowing first responders to communicate with individuals on the other side of an encounter.

This not only provides context to a situation and gives personnel actionable information, but can also be used to help de-escalate conflicts and work out peaceful solutions.

In other cases, it can be used to confirm the location of those lost or trapped during emergencies and help response units safely extract them from the location.

Reduced risk to first responders – drones keep humans out of potentially dangerous situations like barricaded suspects, fires or chemical spills.

They can scout scenes and gain intel without putting lives at risk. In the case of the Surfside Condo Collapse, one of our drones was used to help determine the structural integrity of the building without the need for engineers to enter an incredibly dangerous environment.

The applications here are endless. During an avalanche, emergency crews could fly the drones out and use thermal imaging cameras to help locate individuals to quickly route first responders to their location instead of conducting potentially dangerous search and rescue operations across wide areas.

SWAT teams preparing to enter a building could get eyes on a suspect prior to making entry, or even convince them to surrender peacefully and remove the threat of violence entirely.

New capabilities from advanced technology – drones can be equipped with specialized sensors and features powered by AI and robotics. For example:

  • Gunshot detection to pinpoint active shooter location for automated drone deployment
    • Thermal vision to see through smoke and find people
    • Delivery of critical items like NARCAN or AEDs
    • AI transcriptions for negotiations, with live translation

Growing demand for public safety drones

As the technology continues to improve and drones prove their capabilities, the industry has seen an acceleration in demand for drones across market verticals.

The public safety drone market is expected to reach $2 billion by 2028, growing at an annual rate of 13%.

This demand has been bolstered by new FAA regulations allowing Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations that will further expand public safety use cases.

BVLOS approval is a critical step in expanding DFR programs as it allows agencies to operate drones without the need for direct visual confirmation at all times.

While these developments are encouraging, at present the US drone industry does not possess the capacity to meet this increased demand, however it represents a major opportunity for American companies to lead innovation in a rapidly evolving, lifesaving technology while scaling up domestic manufacturing.

Strengthening the US drone industry

Currently, China dominates the global drone market, producing about 90% of the world’s drones.

However there have been concerns about Chinese electronics from a security perspective, which have been compounded by the fact that an increasing percentage of consumer electronics originate from this region.

With DFR standing to make a significant impact on emergency response infrastructure, this concern grows further, potentially causing issues for hundreds of law enforcement agencies and EMS units across the country.

Reliance on Chinese drone technology poses risks ranging from supply chain vulnerabilities to cyber-threats.

By supporting DFR programs and in turn American drone companies, we can recapture innovation leadership in the industry while fueling high-tech, well-paying job growth.

We can also ensure public safety agencies have secure, reliable technology while also establishing the US as a major hub for the development and manufacturing of cutting-edge drone tech.

Addressing public concerns

Even with the immense promise of DFR and the benefits they provide for safer communities, we understand public concerns about privacy and responsible use.

These concerns are important to bring to the discussion of DFR and providing meaningful recommendations to ensure that this technology is not abused will be critical to ensuring this vision.

Education will play a key role in ensuring the public understands that DFR programs are never to be used for surveillance, but rather to respond to specific callouts when an emergency arises.

We believe drones can de-escalate conflicts and achieve safer resolutions compared to traditional policing methods. Our mission is to build smarter, safer communities through technology.

Privacy and security are particularly important when discussing who has access to the data captured from these drones.

As an organization, we prioritize the security of this information and ensure that none of it is accessible by outside parties, only offering access to key personnel who are operating the drone or are critical to operations.

The future is now

Drones are already demonstrating life-saving capabilities that make them an essential emergency response asset that improves response times, reduces crime and acts as a force multiplier for first responders.

We believe the responsible adoption of drone technology will build safer, more resilient communities that in turn improve the quality of life for its residents.

This article was originally published in the December edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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