What is the Drone as First Responder Program?

Published 12:09 am Thursday, June 16, 2022

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In 2018, the Chula Vista Police Department in California pioneered a new concept in rapid response to police emergencies: Using unmanned aerial systems (commonly known as drones) to pro-actively respond to emergency calls. The concept was so revolutionary that in May of 2018, it was chosen as the municipal program in the nation to be tested as part of the FAAs Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP).

The Drone as First Responder (DFR) concept is different than traditional drone programs in that it is proactive rather than reactive. Instead of launching a drone after an officer is already on scene, Chula Vista’s DFR program stations drones at permanent locations throughout the city and responds proactively to emergencies as soon as they happen.

The intent of the program is to get a drone on scene before responding officers arrive. Certified teleoperators can evaluate the situation remotely and relay information to officers and field supervisors. The drone can also feed live-streaming video of the incident to commanders and field responders. This helps personnel determine the best tools, tactics and resources to mitigate a problem — often before officers arrive on the scene.
The program gives first responders real-time tactical information and even “eyes on scene,” proving to be a powerful de-escalation tool. Since the program was first launched, there have been multiple incidents where officers have scaled down their tactics and successfully defused situations with reduced use of force.

— Chula Vista Police Department (California) drone brochure