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New Study Finds Over 900 Public Agencies Using Drones, More than Double that Recorded in Late 2016

BY Zacc Dukowitz
14 June 2018

A new study from Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone finds that, more and more, public safety agencies are incorporating drones into their operations.

According to the study a little over 900 fire, police, and emergency agencies currently own and use drones in their operations, with California, Texas, and Wisconsin at the lead when it comes to adoption.

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Here are some of the study’s key findings (read the full study here):

  • At least 347 state and local police, sheriff, fire, and emergency units in the U.S. have acquired drones.
  • Local law enforcement departments lead public safety drone acquisitions.
  • Consumer drones are more common among public safety units than specialized professional drones.

Last year, during some of the worst fires the Los Angeles area has seen, the L.A. Fire Department received a lot of publicity when they launched their drone program. High profile drone programs like the LAFD’s have certainly contributed to the increase in drone adoption in other public agencies, as have improvements in technology, with corresponding decreases in pricing.

The drone will fly over, locate hotspots, and then we’ll dispatch our firefighters to get final extinguishment in that area. We’re very, very proud of that new technology.

– Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas

LAFD To Deploy Heat-Seeking Drones To Search For Hot Spots

In addition to high profile programs like the LAFD’s, another factor driving drone adoption in public agencies is the positive news coverage of drones we’ve seen over the last year, including stories highlighting ways that drones can help during and after disasters. During Hurricane Harvey in Houston and surrounding areas, drones were used to help find and rescue people and to assess damage, and following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico drones were used to help re-establish cell phone and internet coverage.

Check out this video from ABC News highlighting the ways drones helped first responders during Hurricane Harvey:

One of the key values of having a drone during a crisis is being able to obtain crucial information to inform response efforts.

With this new environment we’re in with active shooters and mass shooters, you can be all over a school campus and see everyone who’s running out.

– Grady Judd,  Sheriff of Polk County, FL

Fire departments can also use information collected by drone to guide their efforts while fighting an active fire, or to locate people trapped within a burning structure who need to be removed.

[Want to learn more about how police and fire departments use drones? Check out our list of 7 ways fire departments use drones in the field, and 6 ways police departments use drones in their work.]

Bard’s study found that more than twice as many public agencies own drones as do those that operate helicopters and planes, and that most public agencies who use drones only have one drone.

These agencies are the test cases. A lot of these programs are still in their infancy.

– Dan Gettinger, Co-Director of Bard’s Center for the Study of the Drone

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With so much adoption over the last year and a half—more than double since the end of 2016, according to the study—we may be reaching a tipping point. Before too long, it could be that those public agencies without drones will be the ones in the minority.

[Work at a public agency, and want to learn more about how to incorporate drones into your operations? Check out our guide to navigating the Part 107 vs. obtaining a COA to help you get started.]

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