DroneSense Blog

Traditional Drone vs. Drone as First Responder Programs: A Comparison

When we think of drones, we often picture an enthusiastic hobbyist flying their thousand dollar machine… for funBut that’s no longer the case.

Drones, once associated primarily as toys, have found a crucial role in public safety operations. Consider this: A report done by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College showed that at least 1,578 state and local public safety agencies in the U.S. have acquired drones.

As drones take center stage in emergency response, it's essential to comprehend the key distinctions between two major approaches: traditional drone and Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs. In our latest article, we'll explore these differences in detail, shedding light on how drones are reshaping the landscape of emergency response.

The Evolution of Traditional Drone Programs in Public Safety

Traditional drone programs in public safety have been in operation for over a decade. Initially, these programs mainly involved the use of drones for surveillance, reconnaissance, and situational awareness; to serve as supplementary tools to aid existing emergency response efforts. Key aspects of traditional drone programs include:

  • Support Focused: The primary focus of traditional programs is to provide support and enhance existing emergency response procedures. They are used to gather aerial data and imagery to aid decision-making and situational awareness for first responders.
  • Designated Pilots with Drones: These drones are deployed in response to specific incidents or tasks with human operators controlling them manually. They are not typically the first point of contact in an emergency.

The Emergence of Drone as First Responder (DFR)

Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs represent a recent paradigm shift in the use of drones for public safety. These programs prioritize the integration of drones as essential and immediate resources in emergency response scenarios. Key aspects of DFR programs include:

  • Strategically Stationed Drones: DFR programs typically involve strategically positioning drones at designated locations, ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. This strategic deployment ensures that drones can be swiftly dispatched to the scene of an incident, minimizing response times and accelerating crucial information gathering.
  • Remote Operations Center: Integral to the effectiveness of DFR programs is the establishment of remote operations centers. These centers serve as command hubs where skilled operators oversee drone operations in real-time. They can initiate automated responses or direct drone missions based on the evolving situation, ensuring a seamless integration of drone technology into emergency response efforts.
  • Rapid Deployment: At the heart of DFR programs lies a paramount emphasis on expediting response times. DFR drones are primed for rapid deployment, ready to take flight within moments of an emergency call or sensor-triggered activation. This swift response capability enables drones to swiftly assess the situation, gather critical data, and relay it to incident commanders, equipping them with vital information to make informed decisions promptly.

Read More: DFR: Transformational Technology Ushering in a New Era

Comparing the Benefits and Limitations of Traditional Drone Programs and Drone as First Responder Programs

Benefits of Traditional Drone Programs

  • Proven Track Record: Traditional programs have a history of successful applications in various public safety scenarios.
  • Versatility: They can be used for a wide range of missions, including surveillance, search and rescue, and evidence collection.
  • Established Regulations: Traditional drone programs operate under existing regulatory frameworks.

Limitations of Traditional Drone Programs

  • Response Time: Drones under this program may not be as rapidly deployed as drones in a DFR program, potentially delaying critical information gathering. In fact, this type of program is thought of as “drones in a trunk” - only brought out once responders arrive on-scene.
  • Limited Automation: They often require manual operation by trained personnel.
  • Setup: Depending on the setup, it can be bulky in the vehicle, taking up a lot of space, and the pilot has to remember to charge everything between every deployment to ensure they are ready.

Benefits of Drone as First Responder Programs

  • Rapid Response: Launches immediately from a fixed location and flies directly to the scene; this  prioritizes swift deployment, reducing response times in emergencies.
  • Remote Monitoring and Assessment: The airborne perspective is significantly faster; there are no pilot safety concerns since they operate remotely from the scene, allowing them to provide overwatch swiftly.

Limitations of Drone as First Responder Programs

  • Technical Challenges: Developing and maintaining automated DFR systems can be complex and costly.
  • Regulatory Considerations: The integration of DFR drones into airspace and emergency response protocols requires careful coordination.

The Impact on Public Safety: How Drone as First Responder Programs are Changing the Game

DFR programs are transforming the landscape of public safety by:

  • Enhancing Efficiency: Rapid deployment and automation reduce response times, allowing first responders to make quicker decisions and allocate resources more effectively.
  • Improving Safety: By providing real-time data and aerial perspectives, DFR programs enhance the safety of both first responders and the public during emergencies.
  • Reducing Expenses: While initial investments in DFR technology can be steep, the long-term benefits of improved response times and resource allocation can lead to cost savings.

Selecting the Right Approach for Your Public Safety Needs: Factors to Consider

Choosing between traditional drone programs and DFR programs should depend on various factors, including:

  • Budget: Consider the initial costs and long-term operational expenses associated with each approach.
  • Response Time Requirements: Evaluate the criticality of rapid response in your specific public safety scenarios.
  • Technology Readiness: Assess your agency's technical capabilities and readiness to adopt automated DFR systems.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Ensure that your chosen approach aligns with existing aviation regulations and emergency response protocols.
  • Training and Personnel: Consider the availability of trained drone operators and the need for additional training.

Suggested Reading: Barriers to Drone Adoption in Public Safety and How to Overcome Them

The Future Outlook for Drones in Public Safety

Drones have become indispensable tools in enhancing public safety efforts. While traditional drone programs have proven their value over the years, the emergence of Drone as First Responder programs is transforming  emergency response capabilities. The choice between these approaches should be made based on the specific needs and circumstances of each public safety agency. As technology continues to advance and regulations evolve, drones are poised to play an even more significant role in safeguarding communities and saving lives in the future.

Whether you’re looking to start a traditional drone program or you want to jump straight into DFR, DroneSense can help you take that next step. Get in touch today to schedule a demo.