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Chula Vista Police Department First in U.S. to Use Drones in Coronavirus Fight

BY Zacc Dukowitz
25 March 2020

The state of California is currently under a stay-at-home order to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

Police departments throughout the state have opted against enforcing the order with active measures, focusing instead on education and awareness.

Among the different methods of communication that could be used in efforts to remind people about the importance of staying home, the Chula Vista Police Department will be the first to employ drones.

chula-vista-coronavirus
Photo credit: Chula Vista Police Department

Law enforcement officials in Chula Vista plan to use loudspeakers attached to drones to spread safety messages, as has already been done with drones in China, Spain, and elsewhere.

According to Captain Vern Sallee of the CVPD, this communication tactic will be especially helpful with vulnerable populations, such as homeless people living in encampments, who may have no other means of getting up-to-date information on the developing coronavirus situation.

Unsheltered persons are particularly vulnerable to the current pandemic and their safety and welfare is important to stopping the spread of the disease. Left without proactive communication and outreach, COVID-19 could spread in these populations and increase illness throughout our community.

– Vern Sallee, Captain of the Chula Vista Police Department

CVPD drones will reportedly also be equipped with night vision cameras, apparently to help identify people congregating in close quarters at night and broadcast safety messages to them.

To support these new efforts, Chula Vista PD has doubled its drone fleet from two to four drones. The two new drones are both DJI Matrices, a high end professional drone that sells for about $11,000.

Captain Sallee has made sure to say that these new loudspeaker-equipped drones will only be used where there are gatherings of people, and that they will not be used to follow individual Chula Vista residents or for random surveillance or patrols.

More and More Countries Using Drones as Flying Loudspeakers

In the last few weeks, we’ve heard of authorities using drones as flying loudspeakers to communicate with civilians about COVID-19 in countries throughout the world.

Here’s a recap.

China

China was the first place where drones were used in the effort to fight the spread of COVID-19. The tactics employed there were by the far the most aggressive we’ve seen, with drones flying up to specific people and speaking directly to them.

Skip to 00:23 in the video below to see a woman chided by drone for being outside without wearing a mask.

Watch China use 'talking drones' to warn citizens

Spain

News came out last week that police in Madrid were using drones to spread general safety information among citizens about the coronavirus, with police driving up to groups of people and using the drone as a way to communicate from a safe distance.

France

Over the weekend, news came out that authorities in France were using drones on the French Riviera to help spread safety information, in a manner similar to that used in Spain with drones broadcasting safety messages in public spaces.

Drone flies over French riviera to enforce confinement

Belgium

Belgium has also faced growing counts of citizens infected with the coronavirus, and authorities there have also employed drones to share medical guidelines and warn citizens about the importance of staying indoors.

Messages shared by drone in Belgium have been in Dutch, French, and English, as shown in the video below.

Belgian police uses drone to give information about the Corona virus in French, Dutch and English.

United States

Chula Vista, CA is the first place in the U.S. where we’ve heard about drones equipped with loudspeakers being used to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Barring regulatory hurdles, others may soon follow suit in the days to come

Chula Vista Police Department using drones to educate the community and protect officer amid

The Chula Vista Police Department’s Drone Programs

The CVPD launched its drone program in 2017. Since then, drones have become a regular part of public safety operations, with drones assisting law enforcement in making over 250 arrests.

The Chula Vista police department has been aided in the growth of its drone program by being a member of the UAS IPP (UAS Integration Pilot Program), a federal program created to test uses for drones that are otherwise prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules.

Last year, testing done under the IPP helped the CVPD secure the first emergency response COA ever issued with a beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) provision for public safety.

The COA allows the CCPD to fly BVLOS over a nearly 40-square-mile area within its jurisdiction, expanding their coverage area by 10 times what it previously was.

Drones as First Responders in Action

In addition to securing permission from the FAA for new types of operations, the CVPD has been a trailblazing organization in terms of garnering and maintaining public trust.

A common concern in cities where police departments are planning drone programs is that the drones will be used to surveil citizens, in some cases leading to protests and public movements against the program before it’s ever launched.

Before launching its program, the CVPD proactively asked for community involvement, inviting citizens to share concerns and feedback about its plans to implement a drone program in the city.

To this day, the CVPD maintains a public record of all drone missions conducted by the department so that citizens can see exactly when drones are being flown and for what purpose.

In an effort to maintain transparency and public trust, the CVPD’s UAS Drone Program webpage contains the department’s policies on privacy, data sharing, and up-to-date data on its use of Drones as a First Responder (DFR).

chula-vista-dfr-dashboardA Picture of CVPD’s Public DFR Dashboard

The way CVPD captures and shares its drone data presents an impressive model for measures police departments everywhere can take to help secure and maintain public trust.

Happy to hear about drones being used in the U.S. to fight the spread of COVID-19? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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