Drones proving to be allies for public safety


The proliferation of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, is seeing widespread use to improve public safety, with a growing number of specialised drones being used by law enforcement and public safety agencies around the world.


This was one of the topics under discussion at the Drones and Digital Aviation Conference 2019, held at Emperors Palace Convention Centre, between 28 and 29 November.


Senior director for public safety integration at DJI, Romeo Durscher, presented on, “Drone technology and the industrial revolution”. Romeo stated that there are currently 100 000+ US drone pilots and 370 000+ global pilots with an estimated $1.6 billion ecosystem valuation for drones.


The number of public safety agencies using drones from 2015 to 2018 grew by 514.8% resulting in upwards of 302 lives saved by drones around the world. Romeo used the example of devastating wild fires in the US, where public safety agencies utilised drones for visual monitoring. Before K-9 search and recovery teams went through the rubble, a thermal camera on a drone was used to look for hot areas and people. Romeo revealed that the next step in public safety in missions such as huge wild fires is integration of systems with software. Romeo presented Unleash, an integrated software that takes the images from a drone and identifies damaged or intact houses and vehicles that have been damaged. Aside from public safety, Romeo predicts the global drone market will reach a value of $127 billion by 2020. Romeo concluded that drones are utilised worldwide for a huge variety of objectives and are proving to be extremely efficient.


Romeo also presented on, “Drones in public safety”. He said drones work as data acquisition tools that empower public safety in three ways. Immediate intelligence provides incident commanders with detailed information of remote operations. Informed responses increase efficiency by allowing effective resources management and enhanced safety, keeping ground teams safe by scouting the area with a drone. Lastly, by providing aerial overview for situational awareness, this gives drones applications in law enforcement, disaster response, firefighting, maritime surveillance and search and rescue (SAR).


Drones can be used for public safety. For example, the Mavic 2 Enterprise has a beacon for other pilots to easily see while conducting night missions. It has a speaker to communicate with ground teams during emergency situations, guiding pilots and workers across the operation and a spotlight to direct lost persons with greater ease and enhance vision in low-light areas.


The Matrice 200 series V2 is another good example for public safety with three different models: the Matrice 200, the standard model, the Matrice 210, which allows for dual payloads and the Matrice 210 RTK, with more precise GPS data for improved flight. The payload for the Matrice series is the XT2 and the Z30. The XT2 is a weather resistant dual-sensor thermal sensor, shooting with either a 12-megapixel camera or a FLIR Thermal TAU 2 sensor. The Z30 is a camera with a 30x optical zoom and an additional six times digital zoom. These drones work in unison with various software solutions for drones in public safety, all aimed at making the mission and data acquisition easier to enable a response that is well informed and quick.


Drones cost a fraction of manned aircraft, approximately R360 an hour to operate and one US cent to charge a battery. Romeo concluded in dispelling some myths around drones in public safety such as law enforcement watching the public from the sky, stating, “UAS (unmanned aerial systems) are generally used for crime scene and accident investigations, they have limited flight time and missions must be well-defined”. Currently, drones are used by Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Torrance Police, Mansfield Police and Irving Police in the United States, amongst others. In the United Kingdom, drones are used by Dorset Police, Devon and Cornwall Police and Lincolnshire Police.


Romeo’s statistics show that using drones in public safety leads to better coordination and quicker response times for public safety organizations.