National Council Working to Advance Public-Safety UAS Use
Monday, April 23, 2018 | Comments

The National Council on Public Safety UAS (NCPSU) is working on a variety of projects to help push forward the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by public-safety organizations.

NCPSU Chair Charles Werner outlined a variety of projects and initiatives the council is pursuing this year during a webinar hosted by the National Information Sharing Consortium (NISC). One such project is a partnership with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) to develop a national registry of public-safety organizations with UAS programs.

One of NCPSU’s major objectives is advancing the use of UAS by sharing best practices, lessons learned and policies, and the database will act as a resource to help connect agencies operating UAS or considering a program, Werner said.

NCPSU is also active with the UAS Standards Collaborative Committee created by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). That group is working to determine what standards relate to UAS and what gaps need to be filled so that future ANSI standards on UAS will not duplicate previous efforts, Werner said.

NCPSU has also had discussions with First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) officials about what role UAS might play in streaming video and other future uses for the network.

In addition to advancing the use of UAS, the council is focused on staying updated on the legality, use and deployment of counter-UAS equipment to address potential threats to public-safety operations from other UAS users. Many counter-UAS solutions cannot be used because UAS are considered small aircraft, and it is illegal to bring down small aircraft, Werner said. NCPSU is exploring that issue so it can be addressed in the future.

Airspace management will be a critical factor as more organizations, both public safety and others, adopt UAS.

“The future we see is kind of like the Jetsons, but to achieve that Jetsons future, we have to manage the airspace,” Werner said, noting innovations such as UAS delivering packages.

To help address UAS airspace issues, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) started the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) program, a public-private partnership to develop a UAS air traffic management system (UTM).

The system helps automate a previously manual system used to obtain airspace authorization under Part 107, which established rules for Part 107 use.

Four companies have been approved to provide authorizations under the LAANC program, and an application period for new providers ends May 16.

The FAA is also expected to release a rulemaking on remote IDs for UAS this year. This rulemaking will help first responders and other public-safety personnel determine if an unknown UAS is a potential threat to operations, Werner said. Right now, public-safety organizations don’t have an effective way to identify the source of an unknown UAS that could potentially threaten emergency operations.

Managing airspace and working with local airports was one of the biggest challenges York County, Virginia, faced when setting up its own UAS program.

The county’s Remotely Operated Vehicles for Emergency Response (ROVER) unit began in 2016 as a joint effort between the York County Department of Fire and Life Safety and the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office.

The ROVER team comprises 14 personnel, divided between the fire and sheriff’s departments, and has participated in 50 emergency missions and 60 formal demonstrations in the two years since it started, said Chris Sadler, assistant chief for technical services and special operations, York County Department of Fire and Life Safety.

Funding for the ROVER program is split between the fire and sheriff’s departments. The fire department uses funds it receives from the Virginia Department of Fire Programs’ Virginia Fire Fund – Aid to Localities (ATL) program for its half of the program, while the sheriff’s office uses drug asset forfeiture funds it receives for its half.

The county also received a state homeland security grant for the program this year. However, the county has not used that money because the federal government categorizes UAS as controlled equipment, and there are special requirements an agency must meet to use federal funding on controlled equipment. The county is getting the needed approvals so it can use the funding on UAS equipment.

When the county started the ROVER team, there weren’t many public-safety UAS programs around the country, so there were few examples and resources the county could use in standing up its program.

“We pretty much had to do a lot of this ourselves and learn from our own mistakes,” Sadler said.

Airspace management was one particularly complicated issue for the county because the sheriff’s and fire departments had little experience in that area.

The county’s certificate of authorization (COA) for UAS allows it to fly in Class G airspace — anywhere more than five miles away from a towered airport or airstrip. Because York County is home to or near several military bases, as well as two commercial airports, there is limited class G airspace in the county.

Under FAA rules, if a public-safety organization needs to fly closer to an airport, it can get a temporary emergency waiver to fly in that area by contacting the air traffic control (ATC) manager for the airport. When contacting the ATC manager, the public-safety user has to explain where they’re looking to fly and how far they plan to fly so the manager can determine how the flight will affect airport operations.

To get ahead of the airspace management issue, the ROVER team reached out to and met with all of the local ATC managements. Together with the ATC managers, the county developed an airspace coordination map that allows the county to quickly and easily identify to the local airports where it will be operating, Sadler said.

The local ATC managers were appreciative of the county’s outreach, Sadler said, and he encouraged any public-safety organization considering a UAS program to reach out to local ATC managers early in the process.

NCPSU will host a public-safety UAS forum as part of AUVSI’s Xponential 2018 conference May 1 – 2 in Denver. Find more information about NCPSU here.

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