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Drone use in fire/EMS and public safety

Learn how to stand up a UAS program at your agency, how to pass the AKT and two potential ways drones can save lives


Presenters provided attendees with the latest research and real-world applications of drones in EMS, and how they could benefit public safety agencies in the future.

Photo/Kerri Hatt

With public safety usage and applications exploding, fire department drones are poised to be the next technology to redefine emergency response. FireRescue1’s special coverage series – Emergency response in the drone age – takes an in-depth look at considerations for fire departments looking to implement a UAS program.


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a session at EMS Today 2018, presenters provided attendees with the latest research and real-world applications of drones in EMS, and how they could benefit public safety agencies in the future.

Andreas Claesson, PhD, RN, EMT-P, researcher, Karolinska Institute’s Centre for Resuscitation Science, Sweden, presented his research and development of unmanned aerial vehicles used in Sweden to facilitate early defibrillation in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and to assist swimmers in distress.

Douglas Spotted Eagle, founder, Sundance Media Group, covered certification requirements and how to stand up a drone program at your agency.

Memorable quotes on drones in public safety

“Find your red areas. What could be done in those areas in regards to drones?” —Andreas Claesson, encouraging attendees to use GIS mapping to identify areas with poor response times

“Forget about the guy who has a Phantom 4 and flies on the weekends. Get practical training. It’s a must.” —Douglas Spotted Eagle, advising attendees on finding practiced, knowledgeable trainers and a respected training program

“The fact that we have these devices is something to be excited about, embracing and creatively considering, and – in some cases – can be immediately deploying.” —Douglas Spotted Eagle

Top takeaways on UAVs in public safety

Spotted Eagle, who sits on FAA panels, detailed the current state of regulations for individuals and public safety agencies, while Claesson described his research into how drones could cut response times and save lives. Here are the top takeaways from their presentation:

1. How to stand up a drone program in public safety

One of the biggest challenges in adopting drone use in public safety is understanding how to stand up a program within each agency, Spotted Eagle said.

The first step is to decide if you want to stand up the program around the individuals in the department, or around the agency itself. Spotted Eagle recommends a hybrid of both.

He explained that when the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting occurred, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Fire Department was just weeks away from implementing newly purchased drones. The FBI arrived on scene and wanted to begin mapping what was now the largest crime scene in the country, but airspace restrictions from the nearby airport were a challenge.

The Nevada Highway Patrol had individually certified pilots, and a Class B waiver, which allowed them to fly the drones that close to the airport. With their agency and individual licenses, they were able to put drones in the sky.

Having agency and individual flier certifications will give you more flexibility and leeway, Spotted Eagle noted.

Align your program with your current policies and procedures, and make sure you’re covered by your insurance if you drop something on someone.

2. Pass the AKT

Requirements are minimal to become a certified drone operator:

  • Be at least 16 years of age.
  • Be able to read, write and comprehend English.
  • Do not have any physical or mental conditions that would prevent you from being able to operate a drone.
  • Demonstrate aeronautical knowledge by passing the Aeronautical Knowledge Test required by the FAA Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (alternatively, if you are a pilot, you can complete an initial training course).

The test consists of 60 multiple choice questions on subjects such as regulations, airspace, weather, loading, emergencies, crew resource management, radio communication, performance, physiological effects of drugs and alcohol, aeronautical decision making and judgement, airport operations and maintenance.

Takers have two hours to complete and need to answer 70 percent of the questions correctly to pass. Spotted Eagle offered the following tips for passing the test:

  • Read carefully.
  • Answer according to the FAA.
  • Choose the BEST answer.
  • If you do not know the answer, answer and mark it.
  • If calculating, choose the closest answer.
  • Request printed graphs if needed.
  • For mapping questions, ask for a piece of paper, draw a compass and figure visually.

After passing the test, you’ll receive a temporary printed airman knowledge test result. After passing a Homeland Security background check, you’ll receive a hard copy.

3. Drones could save lives in out of hospital cardiac arrests

Rural areas of Sweden, popular with vacationers, typically have prolonged EMS response times. National 30-day survival from out of hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) is about 11 percent, which is not acceptable, Claesson noted. Research has found 30-day survival with use of an onsite AED can reach up to 70 percent.

In 2015, Claesson’s team received a grant to develop and test a drone prototype carrying an AED from local fire stations in areas with a history of cardiac arrest. The drones were able to reach patients 16 minutes sooner than ground response units.

The team is taking the following considerations under advisement before moving forward in a clinical setting:

  • What are the optimal areas to cover on a national level?
  • UAS solution maintenance and support.
  • Integration dispatch center plus DA-CPR.
  • Ethical approval.
  • Dispatch criteria.
  • Bystander interaction.
  • Safety, feasibility.
  • Outcome measures, increased survival.

Bystander considerations include who will implement the AED (e.g., can a 70-year old spouse use the device?). Claesson’s team is also considering if drones should be dispatched in OHCAs with only one bystander in attendance where CPR would be interrupted to retrieve and use the AED.

4. Drones could prevent drowning

Dr. Claesson also reported on research into using drones to help lifeguards locate swimmers in distress. More than 40,000 visitors a day visit the popular Tylosand beach in Sweden, which has powerful rip currents. Response rates to reported drowning incidents are 15 minutes on a national level. Locating the swimmer can take valuable minutes: time to organize and deploy search parties, and 45-50 minutes for helicopter response. Few counties have rescue divers on staff.

The study found deploying drones to locate mannequins in the water found drones could locate immersed, submerged victims and can descend to hover over the victim, making it easier for lifeguards to spot and hastening rescue.

5. Obtain outside validation before deploying drones

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Spotted Eagle noted. You may come up with uses for drones in public safety that seem like a good idea. He gave the example of delivering a flotation device to a swimmer in distress. Why not, right? He showed a photo of a long flotation device hanging from a small drone, and noted you have to consider air drag. Air drag increases fuel consumption, and when a drone runs out of gas, it falls from the sky. Piloting a drone carrying a hanging device over a crowd of beachgoers puts those people in danger. “Be 110-percent sure” about what you’re doing, he advised. “Get outside validation.”

Learn more about drones use in public safety

Kerri Hatt is editor-in-chief, EMS1, responsible for defining original editorial content, tracking industry trends, managing expert contributors and leading execution of special coverage efforts. Prior to joining Lexipol, she served as an editor for medical allied health B2B publications and communities. Kerri has a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is based out of Charleston, SC. Share your personal and agency successes, strategies and stories with Kerri at