GovLoop: The Impact of Drones on Public Safety — and Why They’re Here to Stay by Charles Werner

In 2015, I purchased my own personal DJI Phantom 3 Advanced unmanned aircraft system (UAS) — also known as a drone. I was also the fire chief in Charlottesville, VA. I purchased my drone to explore its utility in the public safety environment. It was $799 for the drone (and two extra batteries) which came with a controller, battery and high-resolution camera capable of digital images and real-time video.

After several days of flying as a hobbyist at a nearby rural park, it was clear that drones would have a huge impact on public safety operations — but even I couldn’t have imagined how much.

The next steps of moving forward were difficult due to the concern over privacy policy and in 2013 Charlottesville and the Commonwealth of Virginia had set a two-year moratorium (no drone zones, with exceptions) on the use of drones by public agencies. The other challenge until 2016 was the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations which required either a manned pilots license or completion of flight ground school.

My evaluation was clear — the cost was affordable for a public agency; flight control and operations were easy and user-friendly; GPS would hold the drone in position so if signal was lost it would return to home and land; and the digital imagery/video was exceptional.

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