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Drones for Public Safety: A Definitive Guide

Learn how drones can be deployed as a first responder for remote public safety and law enforcement operations with capabilities of automation and AI.

Last updated on

July 1, 2020

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https://www.flytbase.com/blog/drones-for-public-safety

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Drone as a technology has come a long way, especially when it comes to adoption by state and local government agencies, and public safety officials. In the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, drones have proven to be quite an effective tool in the fight against COVID-19; especially in countries like China and India.

We are witnessing a widespread adoption of drones across different use cases, and public safety is one such application that has yielded significant social and public health benefits. One such example is how drones saved the lives of 279 people, as shared by DJI at AirWorks2019.

The total global number is, of course, orders of magnitude more, given the increasingly common use of drones for disaster monitoring, emergency response, search-and-rescue, etc. In the US, law enforcement agencies are rapidly adopting UAV technology for the following reasons:

  • Drones provide better accessibility to places that are dangerous for humans.
  • Drones are ideal for capturing video evidence in the form of aerial footage, thus freeing up valuable manpower that can be deployed elsewhere.
  • Drones are an effective tool in search and rescue operations since they can cover large swathes of land in relatively less time.
  • Drones can provide real-time situational awareness in delicate incidents such as hostage situations.
  • Armed with different payloads and sensors, drones can keep an eye on groups of people involved in suspicious activities.

In a study conducted by Bard College, they concluded that 910 state and local law enforcement agencies across the USA have incorporated drones as part of their operations. It is safe to say that drones will play a growing role in public safety and emergency response.

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Drones as first responders refer to the deployments of drone fleets that reach the site of emergency first, even before human responders. Drones are turning out to be perfect first responders for the following reasons:

  • They are fast, agile, and nimble and can reach a location quickly. By doing so they can provide critical, real-time support. Researchers at Tu Delft have come up with the concept of a drone ambulance where a drone carrying an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) can fly to a person suffering from a cardiac arrest and provide time-critical medical support.  
  • Drones can aid human responders by going to an emergency situation first, assessing it, and sending information back, and based on which human responders can better prepare for the situation.
  • First-responder applications require the management of a fleet of drones.
  • Public safety use-cases may require autonomous drone flights in order to minimize the reliance on human pilots.
  • Emergencies may happen in remote areas and hence require beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) capabilities.
  • Being an aircraft, each drone must respect airspace management rules and regulations so that there is no conflict with manned aircraft or other aerial vehicles.

Such capabilities are available in FlytBase, a robust drone automation platform that supports drone fleet management, BVLOS operations, and third-party integration with UTM service providers for airspace intelligence. FlytBase customers are already using FlytBase to power their first responder systems.  

A Texas, US company called Phirst Technologies has developed a solution called First iZ using FlytBase to deploy a fleet of drones via the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system that powers the 911 emergency services in the US. The system works by allowing a 911 operator to dispatch drones from a unified dashboard to gather situational awareness on an emergency situation, and thus assisting human responders before and after they arrive.

This refers to the operating software that goes into a companion computer which is then integrated with the flight controller of a drone. The software acts as the brain and keeps the drone connected with the fleet management system at the base station. FlytBase Business/Enterprise comes with its own ‘edge level’ software (FlytOS) that provides the following capabilities:

  • BVLOS or EVLOS operations over 4G/LTE/5G networks.
  • Precision landing and hover features that can be used to land a drone on a charging pad (see FlytDock).
  • Collision avoidance, a critical feature in BVLOS flights (see FlytCAS).
  • Remote control of payload attachments and camera gimbal.


A ‘drones as the first responder’ system requires the support of ground-based hardware like charging pads, launch systems, etc. The hardware is required to automate the launch of a drone and putting a drone to charging mode when it returns from a mission. FlytBase offers integration with third-party DiaB hardware from some of the following solution providers:

  • Airscort (https://www.airscort.me/)
  • Skysense (https://www.skysense.co)
  • WiPo Wireless Solution (https://www.wipo-wirelesspower.com/)
  • WiBotic (https://www.wibotic.com/)

The integration capabilities of FlytBase combined with smart automation has enabled Phirst Technologies to deliver a public safety solution using drones (First iZ). One of the unique capabilities of the First iZ system is that it can send a drone to a location and capture the required data autonomously; this wouldn’t be possible without FlytBase’s support for ground-based hardware.BVLOS flights in remote, rural areas must be enabled by a first responder system.

When conducting BVLOS drone flights, it is important that they don’t interfere with manned-aircrafts or break static, as well as dynamic, airspace norms. Such airspace intelligence is usually available from UTM service providers, whose solutions can be seamlessly integrated into FlytBase so that operators can conduct safe and legal flights. Note: Read about the partnership between FlytBase and Airmap.

Depending on the situation, drones require specific payloads to get the job done. For example, in a search and rescue mission, a drone may use an IR sensor to locate the missing person. Such payloads and sensors can be remotely controlled via Flytbase, including:|

  • IR Sensor: Commonly known as a thermal camera that captures infrared radiation.
  • Loudspeakers: Useful in making announcements and riot control.  
  • Spotlights: An important attachment for search and rescue.
  • Beacons: Such devices are used to make a drone visible from the ground in low light.

"How to Quickly Demo First Response System Using FlytBase"

Step-1: As someone who is looking for a solution for a quick PoC. You need to first sign up for our 7 days free trial from https://app.flytbase.com/

Step-2: Once you are done with your account setup and email verification. Add your drones by following our Get Started guide.

Step-3: This is an optional step. If you don’t have real drones then you can use our virtual drone. Your FlytBase free account comes with one free virtual drone that you can add by following this guide.

Step-4:  A mission is a set of instructions that tells a drone where to go and how to go. In the context of a first response system, the feature can be used to tell a drone to visit a location and investigate why there’s an emergency. Go to the MISSION tab from the dashboard and click on Add Mission.

Give a name to your mission and click on Add Waypoint. By using the drop pins you can create a route to any location. While defining a route you can limit the speed and altitude. When creating a route, you can also define a finish action that tells a drone what to do when reaching a location. Currently, there are three options in the system:

  • Hover
  • Land
  • Return to Home

Step-5: Set up a geofence, which defines a drone’s area of operation. In FlytBase, a geofence is a circular region within which a drone can fly. A first response system is more likely to function within a specific region and a geofence is a perfect feature to define that region. Follow this guide to create a geofence.

Note: A drone cannot fly beyond its defined geofence. In the enterprise version, polygon geofence is supported. Step-6:  Create Pre-flight Checklist items. FlytBase comes with a list of items that you have to check before executing a mission. The checklist serves to remind you of the important things that you have to keep in mind before sending a drone out for a mission.  You can add items to the checklist by going to the CHECKLIST tab -> Add to Checklist.

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Baisali Ghosh

As a Marcom Manager at FlytBase, Baisali oversees the content strategy, creation, and management! With over 7 years of experience in the drone industry and 3 years of it at FlytBase, she’s a self-proclaimed drone fanatic and is obsessed with all things geographical. In 2022, she has been recognized as the “Women to Watch in UAS” for AI/Autonomy category by Women and Drones.

When she’s not busy hosting FlytBase’s webinar series or organizing NestGen - a global drone autonomy focused event, you can find her exploring the Patagonian Desert, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, or the Yellowstone Caldera on Google Earth.

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