First drone-delivered AED program in the country

Published 12:08 am Thursday, October 12, 2023

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The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office recently announced a partnership with the Duke Clinical Research Institute and HOVECON to implement and test drone AED delivery as part of the standard-of-care process for cardiac arrest care, the first program of its kind in the United States.

The FCSO successfully implemented a Drone-as-First Responder program in 2022, and based on FCSO’s extensive drone knowledge, Duke University researchers under the leadership of Dr. Monique Starks, an associate professor of medicine at Duke University.

Starks teamed up with FCSO and HOVECON as major partners for the initial real-time testing of drone AED delivery integrated into the DFR program.

The new initiative will improve treatment times and the survival rate of cardiac arrest patients, particularly in rural areas throughout Forsyth County, by providing quick access to AEDs during emergencies. This concept, already utilized in Sweden, has demonstrated significant success.

Research shows that when AEDs are delivered within the first five minutes of a cardiac arrest, the survival rate can increase by 50 percent to 70 percent. Drones equipped with AEDs strategically placed throughout Forsyth County will be vital to saving lives. An AED can be delivered by a drone to a scene in two to five minutes as opposed to the average ten to 12 minutes it can take Emergency Medical Services personnel to arrive on the scene.

The grant received by Starks at Duke University is funded from 2023-2027 by the American Heart Association. The $3.5 million grant will partner with teams in Forsyth County and James City, Virginia.

There will be an extensive process to ensure the program is effective and implemented safely over the next four years. HOVECON, a consulting firm focused on accelerating the adoption of autonomous aerial transportation, will ensure that the program’s drones comply with the Federal Aviation Administration guidelines. FCSO’s expertise is critical to being able to integrate drone AED delivery into DFR programs and, if successful, could serve as a model for care in the United States.

Before the Drone-Delivered AED Program implementation, the FCSO, HOVECON, and Duke University will collectively gather feedback from our community and government leaders to ensure all concerns and recommendations are addressed appropriately.

Drones as First Responders was the first program of its kind in North Carolina and one of only 11 programs with applicable FAA waivers nationwide. DFR launched in October 2022 and is designed to provide FCSO Deputies with the assistance of 21st-century technology while serving and protecting our community.

“Eyes have not seen, and ears have not heard — those things we’ve always imagined are here as we speak,” Sheriff Bobby F. Kimbrough Jr. said. “We are grateful and honored to be partnering with Duke University and Dr. Starks. Together, we will create and do the unimaginable.”

Starks added, “This grant opportunity from the American Heart Association offers the amazing potential to test real-time AED delivery in the United States. Sheriff Kimbrough and the FCSO, along with the regulatory expertise of HOVECON and research infrastructure at Duke University, uniquely position us to lead in testing the safety and effectiveness of this technology.”