Drone First Responder Programs Almost Double Over Night with SkyFire’s Help

BY Zacc Dukowitz
6 July 2022

Skyfire Consulting recently helped three different police departments secure BVLOS approvals to create their own Drone First Responder programs.

Credit: Skyfire Consulting

According to a statement, Skyfire not only helped the departments secure BVLOS approvals, it also helped them get the COAs (Certificate of Operation) under which they operate as part of the same effort.

The three departments are located in Collier County, Florida, Brookhaven, Georgia, and Elizabeth, New Jersey.

That range of locations is telling.

Police departments have been using drones more and more in their work over the last several years. And the fact that Skyfire has helped three departments get approval to launch DFR programs all at once could indicate the beginnings of a trend.

What Is a Drone First Responder Program?

“Drone First Responder” refers to the practice of deploying drones to the scene of a 911 call as soon as it is reported.

The drone often arrives before first responders, providing a live video feed that both those en route and those in incident command can monitor for situational awareness. The drone’s remote operator communicates closely with those on the ground to improve their response to the emergency, helping their work be safer and more targeted.

DFR programs aim to decrease response times, provide situational awareness and increase efficiency.

– Skyfire Consulting

While officers travel to the scene, the drone can provide key data about what is happening there. This information can help officers:

  • Prepare a plan of action, including triaging medical care for those injured
  • Identify and track fleeing suspects before they can escape or hide
  • Avoid being ambushed
  • Generally know what they’re walking into—Are shots still being fired? Who is involved? Is it a situation that calls for de-escalation, more backup, or the need for pursuit?
  • Determine whether an officer is needed at all

The last point is worth underscoring. In many instances, a drone can help first responders determine that a patrol unit doesn’t need to be dispatched at all, saving valuable time and resources for the department.

At the Chula Vista Police Department, in the over 4,000 DFR calls for which it has deployed drones, over 1,000 of them—or over 25% of the total calls made—did not require officers to be dispatched because of the information collected by the drone.

Credit: Skyfire Consulting

According to Skyfire, of the ten Drone First Responder programs now active in the country it has helped to launch eight of them.

That is an impressive claim to be able to make.

Only three years ago, the Chula Vista Police Department was the only law enforcement agency in the country with permission to deploy drones to the scene from which 911 calls were made.

Chula Vista PD secured the BVLOS approval needed to launch that program—which they coined Drone as First Responder—under the FAA’s UAS IPP, an initiative designed to help local and city authorities test drone operations otherwise prohibited by the Part 107 rules. The UAS IPP has since ended, and the FAA’s BEYOND Program has taken its place.

Skyfire Consulting helped Chula Vista to get that first approval. In 2019, when Chula Vista PD secured permission to launch its DFR program, it did so by working with Skyfire. At the time, Skyfire was the first ever consultancy to help an IPP member get a BVLOS COA.

Drones as First Responders in Action

The Chula Vista DFR program was a success, and has become a model for other police departments, paving the way for them to make successful applications to get BVLOS ops approved.

To date, the Chula Vista PD program has used drones to respond to over 4,000 911 calls, with drones arriving in less than 2.5 minutes to each one.

How Skyfire Got the Approvals

To get approvals for the three new DFR programs, Skyfire worked closely with AUVSI to make sure the FAA received all the information it needed to verify that these departments could fly BVLOS safely.

A key piece of information for the FAA was the ability of each department to demonstrate a track record of safe VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) drone missions, thus showing that it could be trusted to conduct safe operations in general.

This is a monumental time for the future of drone first responder programs in this country. We’d like to thank the FAA for their action on these programs, and we look forward to helping continue the conversations towards a faster path to approval for these types of programs in the future.

– Matt Sloane, Founder and CEO of Skyfire

Skyfire’s approach for supporting police department drone ops is extremely tailored.

Matt Sloane, the founder and CEO of the company, detailed this to us in an interview a few years back, describing how their goal was to get each department exactly what they were looking for in terms of hardware and software instead of trying to push the same solutions for everyone.

This customized approach can be seen in the software that the three departments ultimately chose for their new DFR programs. Each department received FAA approval to use a different software, resulting in three different software applications—Motorola’s Cape, DroneSense and Paladin—or one for each department that received approval.

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